The year is 1994, and a young American called John Kohn has just made history by processing the very first ecommerce transaction – a sale of a Sting CD to his friend in Philadelphia for $12.48. Fast forward 24 years and what, back then, was pushing the boundaries, is now so deeply engrained in our culture, it is no more out of the ordinary than popping to the shop to buy a loaf of bread – although many people also do that online now too!

The Ecommerce market has exploded since those “primitive” days with worldwide e-commerce sales expected to reach $27 trillion by 2020.

A simple search for what you’re after into your favoured search engine, will reveal a plethora of websites offering their wares at cheaper prices, faster delivery rates and a quicker shopping experience – take Amazon’s one click buy as a classic example.

Although most e-retailers are now well adept at getting your goods to you the next day; many are still lagging when it comes to their returns policies and service. Once a by-product of purchasing online, the Returns Experience is now a key differentiator in a market full of brands vying for your money by offering that next level of service. It’s time to play the returns experience game!

It's time to play the returns experience game

To borrow a sporting analogy, playing the returns game at home – although hard – should be easier than playing an away game. You know the market expectations, the infrastructure and the associated costs with this – you have your home team’s support behind you. The away game though can be more difficult. You may struggle with knowing what level of service is expected in said markets and what you need in place to win the away game. The truth is, although the specifics may differ between countries, the fundamentals of any good returns experience apply. Here we give our top tips for providing a winning return experience at home and away.

Order a free returns service

There is no legal obligation in the EU to provide free returns other than if the product received by the customer is defective or not correct. It is becoming increasingly popular however and the front-runners in the returns game are offering such a service by providing pre paid returns labels etc.

Order a free returns service

Consider how the customer will return the product. Is it a case of them taking it to a local post office or will they need to take it to a drop off point? Customers have hectic lives and may not live near post offices so local drop off points (situated in newsagents and convenience stores) may be beneficial. If the product is big, then a pick-up service needs to be offered. Many companies now provide multiple returns options. The point is, it needs to be appropriate and easy!

Order a free returns service

Don’t keep the customer waiting – Of course, for each country there will be certain legal requirements for refunding within a certain time frame and you need to ensure you understand how these differ between countries to ensure compliance. Legal requirements aside, it doesn’t matter who is buying, nobody wants to be waiting weeks to receive their money back if they decide they no longer want the goods. If you are selling in a country where it will take a long time to get your stock back (due to transportation times etc), you may need to consider getting the returns sent to a local hub. Once you have your stock safely at the hub you can then carry out the customers refund, safe in the knowledge the goods have been returned. A speedy refund for the customer, equals less perceived risk and increased chances of repeat purchases.

Provide a local returns address

Asking a German shopper to post their return to a UK address for example, is not ideal. Regardless of whether the customer pays the return cost themselves or not. That added distance increases the chances of parcels getting lost, held up or damaged in transit. In turn, you receive goods late and in an unsaleable condition and the customer waits with bated breath to see if they will ever get their refund. A local returns address will reduce the risk, cost and time associated with the return on behalf of the customer and will encourage repeat purchases. You will also see the benefits – products can be returned to your warehouse in bulk, thus reducing transportation costs or (volume allowing) you can re-fulfil from the local hub.

Provide a local returns address

Buying products from a company is no good if you cannot communicate effectively with the company you are buying from. It’s imperative that all your returns information and forms are in the native language of the buyer. Consider offering a native speaking Customer Service agent to further smooth-out the returns experience and resolve any returns issues quickly and effectively.

Every market has its fair share of complexities and nuisances you need to consider when offering your returns service. Whatever market you sell into, start with the basic points outlined and work from there. Keep the customer in mind. At the least, the return experience should work seamlessly into the other parts of the overall purchasing experience. At best it should stand out from the crowd as a simple, hassle free, POSITIVE experience.

Don’t underestimate the importance of returns – customers can take their pick when it comes to who they will give their money to. Whether they give it to you, is down to the “complete package”. Creating a leading returns experience will leave you top of the league tables.