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The bond between retailers and their “best” consumers has been put to the test over the past few years. As the COVID-19 pandemic shifted shopping online and shuffled behaviors, it brought forth new demands on retailers to maintain existing relationships, create new connections, and enhance the consumer experience.

Addressing these challenges requires a nimble strategy that anticipates shopping behavior, streamlines the omnichannel journey, maximizes profit, and minimizes loss. All while keeping your most loyal consumers happy along the way. Easier said than done? Well, it’s all about perspective.

Every interaction with shoppers – whether online, in-store, delivery, curbside pickup, or pickup lockers – is a chance to wow loyal and new consumers alike. One area that retailers often overlook, and consumers least expect is the return counter.

Retailers must adapt to new shopping trends

Even as ecommerce took a huge leap in early 2020 – experiencing 10 years of growth in just three months1 – brick-and-mortar stores have stayed strong for most sectors. When looking at organizations that increased sales by 10% or more last year:

 

  • 93% of all fulfillments occurred at the store level2
  • 78% of those sales came via traditional store purchases2
  • Only 7% of those sales came from traditional ecommerce channels2

 

Which means that in the pandemic-initiated battle between ecommerce and physical stores, both sides won. While more people than ever are shopping online, they’re still relying heavily on local stores, especially for BOPIS (buy-online-pick-up-in-store) and BORIS (buy-online-return-in-store) transactions.

Let’s take a look at these return and pick-up transactions from the consumer’s perspective and explore how you can deliver an elevated omnichannel experience.

(re)Turn consumer expectations

Every interaction with shoppers – whether online, in-store, delivery, curbside pickup, or pickup lockers – is a chance to wow loyal and new consumers alike. One area that retailers often overlook, and consumers least expect is the return counter.

Your consumer sees: Returns as the frustrating conclusion of a purchase gone wrong. And that frustration feels inevitable, especially when returning or exchanging a product that was ordered online. It’s a lot of effort to sort out the return process, whether re-boxing and shipping an item or finding time to return in store.

You should see: An opportunity to make a positive impression for shoppers returning both online and in-store purchases. Many retailers lack the data and processes to provide excellent service with minimal consumer impact – while ensuring the validity of each return – but we’ll explore ways to do just that below.

Seeing the return and pick-up experience from your consumer’s perspective is a good first step. But the next step is harder – developing a strategy that optimizes your omnichannel platform and processes.

Pick up where your online storefront leaves off

In an ideal world, the shopping journey from website or mobile app to store pick-up is seamless. Consumers seek the best retail experience no matter the channel. And even when retail associates aren’t involved, the stakes are high. For example:

 

  • 85% of shoppers prefer to buy clothes online but pick up in store to try them on3
  • Consumers using pickup towers or lockers rate their overall consumer experience 25% higher than when helped by employees4

Your consumer sees: Pick-ups as a necessary step to ensure satisfaction. In this new shopping reality, everyone is still figuring out what works best for them. For clothing, shoes, and other high-ticket products, many of your “best” consumers want to touch and feel items before bringing them home.

You should see: An opportunity to rethink the consumer experience. And perhaps even redesign your stores to accommodate these big shifts in behavior. Streamlining the pick-up and return processes will help differentiate your brand and keep your consumers coming back.

How to turn what your consumers see into reality

Seeing the return and pick-up experience from your consumer’s perspective is a good first step. But the next step is harder – developing a strategy that optimizes your omnichannel platform and processes.

Start by implementing efficient, data-driven return authorization systems and optimization tools that help to create a consumer-centralized journey while managing risk and preventing invalid returns. But don’t stop there. Here are four more tips to enhance service for your best omnichannel consumers:

 

  • Provide fair, friendly, and flexible returns no matter where the original purchase occurred by extending merchandise return time frames and personalizing tender and channel refund policies.
  • Treat loyal consumers well by using data to distinguish the “good” from “bad” actors – who risk turning returns into a loss – and eliminate re-stocking fees for honest shoppers.
  • Reward consumers making in-store returns by using their information to instantly customize a discount offer or other shopping message which provides an immediate incentive to shop at the store – and helps you recover lost revenue.
  • Cater to your consumers by both rethinking return/exchange policies and redesigning store footprints – such as installing pick-up lockers to accommodate BOPIS and BORIS transactions.

Get ready to walk a day in your consumer’s shoes

Never lose sight of how your consumers feel about returns and pickups – or the negative impact that long lines, complex processes, and cumbersome policies can have. Instead, reverse those return expectations by integrating robust return authorization systems and optimization tools that are built to improve performance, maximize profit, spark engagement with new shoppers, and drive deeper brand loyalty with consumers across the omnichannel.

 

Footnotes

1 Bank of America, U.S. Department of Commerce, ShawSpring Research, Forrester Analytics, McKinsey Retail Practice
2 Buzek, G. (Writer). (2021, September 23). Top 10 Omnichannel Retail Trends. Live presentation. IHL Services.

 

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Author

Leslie Nienaber, Digital Marketing Specialist, Appriss Retail 

Leslie researches business trends and distills the information for a retail audience. Her marketing experience has covered a wide variety of industries, including promotional products, microbiology, print, and mail. She spent five years in the retail industry before graduating with her Bachelors in Business Administration from John Carroll University.

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