The way customers find products has been evolving rapidly over the last decade. So, too, have the ways that those shoppers have to return items that aren’t what they expected to get for their dollar. Where once the price of returning a product through the mail was an acceptable risk, now customers are asking for more free options.

As Goes Amazon Goes the World

Unfortunately, customers are growing increasingly used to the way Amazon does business. Even though it’s a behemoth in its sector, there’s an expectation that even small eCommerce stores should follow in its path. This is known as the “Amazon Effect” and it absolutely impacts everything in the eCommerce world, from how packages are shipped to how the supply chain handles reverse logistics. But Amazon isn’t the only force influencing the rise of free returns across the eCommerce space. These trends are also raising the stakes:

  • In-store Returns. Ordering online once meant having to return products through the mail. For many retailers with eCommerce divisions, the cost and hassle of mailing things back has been replaced by free in-store returns. These free in-store returns also allow customers opportunities to see what’s new and what’s on sale in the shop, spurring more purchases.
  • The Explosion of eCommerce. eCommerce isn’t perfect, sometimes the blue shirt that a customer thinks they’re getting turns out to actually be black, or worse, green!
    Not being able to inspect products in person means that products may fall short of expectations, necessitating a return or exchange. Of course, customers are quick to blame the shop for not giving them a better way to judge the item, but they will generally accept returns with free return shipping for their trouble.
  • Customer Demand. Even before there’s a problem with an order, customers are demanding free return shipping as a prerequisite to purchase. According to a Dotcom Distribution survey, a third of customers will only buy if there’s free return shipping offered. More than 90 percent of those same respondents say that free returns is very influential in where they ultimately purchase.

Just like free outbound shipping was once high stakes, the idea of free returns shipping for everything is becoming a live or die issue for eRetailers. Customers seem to want to treat eCommerce stores just like those in the real world, where they can breeze in and out, sampling merchandise and returning almost anything without paying as much as a restocking fee (remember those?).

eCommerce retailers have to continue to do their very best to keep up with these trends. Even if you can’t offer free return shipping, many consumers are willing to pay a small shipping fee when there’s a lot of transparency involved and you move quickly to process their returns.