Rather than balk at online shoppers who buy and return a lot, why not embrace them? They have long term value if your fulfilment and returns systems are up to scratch, says Neil Ashworth CEO of Collect Plus.
When it comes to shopping, traditional values are still present in modern retail – they just play out slightly differently. Whereas high street shopping requires a changing room, online shopping demands convenient and ideally free returns. As online shopping has matured, so has today’s online fashion shopper, who is now increasingly likely to treat their bedroom as a fitting room, ordering multiple sizes, colourways and styles from their favourite brands, confident in the knowledge that they can keep their favourites and easily return the rest for a quick refund.
At CollectPlus we call this group of savvy shoppers Frequent Fashion Returners. They shop regularly across a range of their favourite online brands, knowing which ones make returning items quick, easy and free – research in November 2015 by Research Now showed that 74% of customers are less likely to shop with Brands who charge for returns – and avoiding those that offer an expensive or complicated returns experience. (77% of customers’ shopping behaviour is influenced by the delivery and returns options provided).
Whilst at first glance these frequent returners can seem unattractive to retailers, they shouldn’t be dismissed. They reward their favourite brands with regular purchases across seasons, sustained loyalty and recommendation and in the long term, a high lifetime value, making them an attractive customer segment.
The challenge for retailers is therefore how they can embrace this group, using clever service offers and in the background, data analysis to increase their likelihood to purchase and smooth their path of return when necessary.
A recent Mintel study found that over a third of online shoppers struggle to find clothes that fit them well, meaning that this group is far more likely to return items but far less likely to repeat purchase from that retailer. Whilst the silver bullet of perfectly fitting clothes may not be within everyone’s grasp, if a customer knows that they can buy several different sizes and then return them for a swift refund, avoiding the out-of-stock lottery of the exchange process, they are more likely to shop there again.
To combat this, comprehensive product presentation through photography and video, detailed product descriptions, customer reviews and consistent, detailed, sizing all contribute to a customer’s likelihood to purchase and be confident that the item will be right first time. Customer reviews are particularly powerful, especially those which detail height and dress size of the reviewer, because they allow shoppers to imagine how the item will suit a variety of body shapes – theirs included.
Ways to help the Frequent Fashion Returners
And perhaps most importantly, technological advances mean that helping a customer to ‘know their size’ is far easier than it used to be, meaning that in exchange for a customer sharing data in the form of their personal measurements and style preferences, retailers can recommend the right size or style of garment, to help keep wrong-sized or just-don’t-suit-me disappointments and returns to a minimum.
Obviously companies like CollectPlus can help retailers to improve the returns experience and keep their customers loyal, happy and more likely to shop again. Conveniently located drop off points with long opening hours, help customers to return unwanted items at a time and location that works for them. And with the speed of the refund increasingly important for customers as their basket size and up-front investment increases, the promise of a fast, tracked return can reassure customers that they will get their money back quickly. However, as important as this is, to today’s Frequent Fashion Returner, the offer of a refund as soon as the returned parcel has been scanned into a store would be the ultimate reward. Whilst offering this wouldn’t always be a possible or practical proposition across all customer groups, if a loyal, regular customer knows that they will be refunded as soon as they hand over their parcel, their propensity to repurchase and recommend that retailer will increase, as will their trust in it. Unsurprisingly this refund speed is an increasing feature of our retail relationships.
Offering flexible and convenient returns solutions that fit in with people’s busy lives is an essential part of the purchase experience. With the most successful retailers understanding what matters most to their customers and developing solutions which match their needs, Frequent Fashion Returners are likely to continue to be a valuable segment of online shoppers.
CollectPlus works with over 300 retailers and has over 5,800 stores open early ‘til late to make returns a convenient option. With 9.1 million people in the UK now living within 300m of a CollectPlus store it’s easy to return unwanted items at a time and place that suits today’s ever busier lifestyles.
Neil Ashworth is CEO of Collect Plus.
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