The return process is important in e-commerce

Updated: May 22, 2019

Right now I have a pair expensive football boots on my desk. I need to return them to England and the only help I got from Pro-direct Soccer was that they told me it would be my responsibility, that the boots got back to them.

Of course it is my responsibility, but 63% of all online shoppers check the return process before they confirm the order (1). The risk of having to pay €30 to send a pair of boots back to the country where you bought them, will stop many from buying.

How to handle international returns

This blog post is about international returns. What you have to take into consideration and how you define a policy that supports your ambitions in the foreign market.

And first of all you need to split the problem in two. We tend to focus on our problem as web shop instead of the customers problem.

The customers problem

The customer don’t wan’t to have a more complicated or expensive return process when they buy from you, than the process offered by a local competitor. They don’t care about your costs or the complicated international return proces.

This means your return process must be competitive, remember 63% check how returns are handled before they buy. As a part of your market analysis you should check the return policy of your competitors and define a competitive benchmark for your own web shop.

It is a part of our market scan, read about it here.

The web shops problem

When you have defined your benchmark for a competitive return process, you have to find out how to offer this policy at the lowest possible cost. I see 3 parameters to consider.

1. Convenience

Including a pre-paid return label in the package is without doubt the most customer friendly approach. This strategy increase returns, but it also increase conversion rates and more important it will increase number of returning customers among those who use the service or become aware of it. At the other end of the “convenience-scale” we find my friends at Pro-direct soccer. They don’t do anything and this is definitely also a strategy. My boots have been on my desk for 2 weeks and I missed the latest return date. The question in their case is if they won the order, but lost the customer.

2. Time

If you have a local return address where returned orders are checked and handled, you do as good as any local player. MakesYouLocal offer of course this kind of service and actually we offer to register the returns directly in your system.

3. Money

From a customer perspective convenience might be more important than money and therefore these two parameters are separated. A web shop should decide what a return can cost and still be reasonable seen from the customers perspective. Maybe it has to be free, maybe you can charge 10€ or maybe you can leave the problem with the customer and let them carry the cost and trouble of finding a process and buying the postage.

At the same time you have to analyze your cost for handling a return. Often your cost will be higher than what you can charge the customer.

This is where it gets difficult

Of course it will be more expensive to handle a return from abroad than a local return. If you wan’t to be a serious player in the foreign country, you can’t increase cost above your competitors and you can’t reduce the service level.

You have to see the cost as an investment in the new market and it has to be justified by the value of doing business in a foreign market, without having an operation in the country.

Our experience from the customers we help is that there are good and solid solutions, where costs are reasonable and customers are happy.

(1. Survey by ComScore, February 2012)