• November 16, 2021
  • By Dan Nevin , chief revenue officer, global retail, Doddle

Hone Your Customer Focus with Returns Feedback

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Readers may have heard the classic Steve Jobs quote, “Some people say, ‘Give the customers what they want.’ But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do.”

Listening to what the customer wants is the very essence of what great retailers do—but what if there was a whole array of very direct customer feedback that they weren’t really using to its full effect?

It’s easy to overlook the customer returns journey as an opportunity for important data gathering, but when you think about the potential, it seems so obvious. There are many reasons why a customer might return an item. In isolation, they may seem inconsequential. But what if 100 customers returned the same item? A thousand? More? If you gave those customers an easy way to explain their decision to return, you could uncover important trends—misrepresentation on your website, possibly? Erroneous sizing? Small, but significant, quality issues can be identified here.

But gaining clear visibility into the reasons for returns can be a challenge. Why?

Customer errors: The paper return slip shoved into a package isn’t an effective or efficient way to gather this kind of critical customer feedback. Customers often don’t supply the requested or correct details. 

Warehouse oversights: Adding to that, warehouse staff processing returns may or may not have time to accurately transfer all the information from the returns slip (which may not even be correct as noted above) into an inventory management system.

No clear ownership of returns: A final challenge some retailers face is the issue of ownership of returns. If responsibility for returns sits between multiple departments and there is insufficient coordination between them, it becomes impossible to drive improvements or build these vital capabilities. Traditionally, returns have been treated simply as a cost center, reducing the appetite to invest in the customer experience and capture that useful data.

With some digital tools, these issues can be addressed and enable retailers to capture the customer feedback at the point-of-the-return decision and empower appropriate departments to access and act upon that insight. The returns data can then shape the business to become more customer-centric and cost-efficient. How? 

E-commerce staff can determine that a product range is being returned more than others because the photography on the website isn’t clear—and can rectify that. Marketers can identify a segment that costs the company more in returns than they spend; they can then adjust campaigns to exclude that segment as appropriate.

Logistics can discover an unacceptable lag between customer drop-off and arrival at the warehouse that’s impacting resale opportunities and time to refund—an issue that must be addressed so it doesn’t negatively impact sales and customer satisfaction. (Worth noting, from the customer side, Doddle research found that 81 percent of shoppers say retailers need to improve their returns services. And 63 percent of consumers won’t shop again at retailers after a negative returns experience.) Finally, purchasing can glean customers are flagging an inherent problem with a product so that it can be remedied.

All these issues have financial repercussions and can become much more easily visible and addressed thanks to the customer feedback inherent in returns data. But retailers need the appropriate digital solutions to both encourage customers to accurately provide that feedback and to ensure that data is easily accessed and leveraged across the necessary departments and integrated with additional customer data tools.

ASOS is a great example of a company doing this right. It knew returns performance couldn’t be effectively measured and lead to adjustments with the traditional label-based returns process. As noted, these typically tell retailers relatively little about a return, and certainly don’t allow them to swiftly extract patterns of data to help prevent a product from becoming loss-making. These processes can’t help identify when a product has an inherent fault, is being routinely returned and replaced, or causing more customer service contacts than other items.

With a digital returns solution, ASOS was able to integrate the data from customers’ returns journeys into the wider business, enabling it to quickly identify and influence everything from inaccurate sizing, misleading photography, uncompetitive pricing, or even unprofitable customers. As a result, ASOS reported nearly $60 million worth of savings.

It’s clear that returns data can provide actionable insights for retailers. With this knowledge, they can sharpen their customer focus, engender loyalty, and drive benefits across the business.

Dan Nevin is chief revenue officer, global retail, at Doddle. He joined the company in 2019. Nevin heads up the retail team and is responsible for the global retail go-to-market strategy.

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