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The internet has changed much in the shopping world. These days, you can find just about anything that you want online (and many times products that would be difficult or near to impossible to find locally, too). But one element that the internet has yet to conquer is the online product returns process.

This is one aspect where brick and mortar stores still win the gold trophy. That’s because a consumer can merely revisit a local store if they need to return a product. Big box stores like Best Buy, Target and Walmart make returns simple. Just head to the customer service desk and they will promptly process your return.

Simply put, consumers have grown accustomed to this convenient return process for eons, long before the internet ever was derived. Therefore, it’s not unusual, or unexpected, to presume that this is what consumers want with your online product returns policy as well.

Furthermore, the returns policy that you offer will ultimately be the game-changer for your online store – notwithstanding elements like competitive pricing, customer service, product availability, shipping rates and so forth – and can either help you improve profits and retention or can work against you.

We’ll help you understand how shoppers view your returns policy and what simple changes that you can make to it in order to facilitate a healthy return on investment and a cushier bottom line. Don’t overlook these critical aspects, they could make the difference in your e-commerce success story.

Easy Returns Equates to Confident Shopping

The one thing all e-commerce stores require are confident shoppers. Confident shoppers spend more, return to your store to make repeat purchases more often, and ultimately feed your bottom line the most. But if you are not offering easy returns, you are missing out.

A recent report on the online product returns management process that was authored by think tank Forrester found that over 81% of consumers want a simple and easy process for initiating and processing an online return. In addition, the report also found that the most loyal shoppers make the most returns, because they are buying more products all the time.

A related ABC News article finds that one-third of products will be returned anyways, thus necessitating the need for a straightforward and simple returns process at your online store. By automating returns, you are assuring existing and prospective customers that shopping at your store won’t be something that they later regret doing.

The Returns Policy Gets Read, A Lot

But who reads that returns policy anyways? A lot more people than you might think. Numerous studies have been fielded by various think tanks, all resulting in a similar number here. The general consensus is that about 60-65% of people will take the time read your e-commerce returns policy before they decide whether or not they are doing business with your store.

If your returns policy is not conducive to being simple and straightforward, you are basically letting customers know that they should take their business elsewhere. Instead, you can use this as a powerful conversion tool by assuring the customer that their business matters and that you won’t make returns complicated or cumbersome.

Bad Returns Means Your Competitor is a Click Away

Because if you do offer bad returns policy, your competitor is just a few clicks or a Google search away. Therein lies the power of the internet to either help you convert sales or lose them. The good news is that you can make some simple changes to your returns policy to attract more customers and generate more conversions and sales.

Certainly, you will have to consider your bottom line along the way. But also be sure that you consider this, too. A study that was conducted which followed two larger online retailers found that when free return shipping was offered, sales increased dramatically over just two years. The 49 month study found that sales could spike by 200% or more, with the average consumer spend jumping as high as $2,400 over 24 months, telling of how a simple return policy change can actually supercharge your profit margins.

Free Return Shipping is the Most Desired

Of the consumers polled in recent studies, the numbers have found that they overwhelmingly want free return shipping. In fact, many consumers say that they’d consider shopping around for a store that offers this if the store they prefer is not. About 90% of consumers say that free return shipping is “very important” in the buying process, and over 92% are loyal to the brands that cater to this prevailing consumer desire.

Why Shoppers Typically Return Products

Returns are unavoidable. While there are some simple things that you can do to help prevent them, they will and do happen. The most common reasons include things like the product arriving damaged; the product not fitting properly (apparel); the product looking different than you showed it online; and even the wrong product being shipped to the consumer.

But you have the power to make key changes to this policy to increase consumer confidence. After all, your returns policy says a lot about your business and how you conduct it. Assuring customers that no matter what, you’ve got their back, helps them feel more confident when clicking the “checkout” button and making a purchase at your e-commerce store.

How Automation Improves Retention, Loyalty

When it all comes down to it, your online store should really feature an automated returns process. Let customers process their own returns directly from your website, and you can save yourself time, money and frustration. What’s more, the consumer is then reassured that their business matters, that returns are easy and that shopping at your store is more convenient than somewhere else; even a local store.

Bringing automate to the returns policy is not impossible. In fact, with the right retail returns software, in place you can simply use software to automate this process. This includes things like letting the customers place the return, generating a prepaid shipping label that the customer prints from their computer, and tracking and managing the return while it’s in transit back to your warehouse.