eCommerce returns are a pain, but something all online retailers must deal with. Returns are about making the best of an unpleasant situation because in reality a return is, at best, a lost sale. At worst, a return is a lost customer, or even a lost potential customer. Shopping cart abandonment due to an unfavorable returns policy is a huge problem for the industry – 77% according to Listrak.

Recognizing the potential downside of a bad returns process and policy, and their impact on profitability and customer sentiment, many eCommerce retailers are changing their approach to returns. In fact, the smart ones have figured out a few surprising ways to turn their returns policies into positive customer experiences and even a chance to upsell clients.

Appreciate the Buyer’s Perspective

There is an inherent risk to consumers when shopping online. Buying something sight-unseen, as consumers do online, is a leap of faith in many ways, so providing assurances to the buyer throughout the process is important. Most want some level of protection against missed expectations.

Increasingly, online buyers are shopping prices across many websites. All things being equal (pricing, free shipping, etc), a returns policy can often end up being a key differentiator and the deciding factor for many purchases. Consumers looking to buy may even start their shopping with a Google search for the product while including the term ‘free returns’. A site’s returns policy should be easily found on the site, and not buried on a remote page somewhere.

Be Very, Very Clear

Highlighting policies, like ‘Free Returns’ or ‘No Hassle In-Store Returns for Online Purchases’ boosts customer confidence. Many eCommerce sites use the offer of free returns as a loss-leader and consider it a cost of doing business. In the extreme (although they do not advertise it), others sometimes simply tell the customer to keep the item because they know the cost of return shipping and processing the return costs more than the item is worth.

For many sellers, however, a more realistic option is charging a fixed rate for returns. The goal here is typically to offset a portion of the shipping and returns processing expense for the retailer. Another option becoming more common is to offer discounts to buyers who forfeit their right to make a return. Many consumers are okay with the idea of sharing the responsibility, and cost, of a return if they feel their risk (i.e. the flat rate or discount) is within reason.

Returns as a Strategy

eCommerce merchants like Warby Parker have embraced returns as a unique customer-focused go-to-market strategy. Go to their site and pick out multiple eyeglass frames. They will ship all of them to you. Pick out the one you want and return the others. What could be simpler in terms of trying and buying?

Making Returns Easy

Making the returns process simple is as important as a customer-focused returns policy. Some eCommerce businesses simply include returns labels in their outbound shipment. Others have created a returns page on their website, enabling customers to create shipping labels and automate the carrier pickup process. Why? Because the more customers visit an eCommerce website, the more opportunities there are for upselling and driving search engine optimization. Learn more about powering eCommerce returns onsite through software.

Returns are a normal part of selling online. It is an essential part of online selling that is not going to go away any time soon. A simple and clear returns policy is what customers want to feel good. And feeling good about a brand ensures customer loyalty and future sales.