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For decades, returns have been considered a cost of doing business. As a retailer you sell a product. Consumers buy that product and some of them return it. And your business absorbs the cost. Over time, and across thousands of shoppers, those costs add up quickly.

Let’s face it – returns are on the rise

According to a recent report, U.S. consumers returned an estimated $428 billion in merchandise last year1. Looking deeper at the numbers, you’ll see that:

  • 10.6% of total U.S. retail sales were returned in 2020 – 5.9% of which were fraudulent
  • For every $1 billion in sales, the average retailer incurred $106 million in returns
  • Online returns more than doubled in 2020 from 2019

That last point is a big one. Ecommerce accounted for $565 billion or 14% of total U.S. retail sales in 2020. This was driven by the COVID-19 pandemic which dramatically shifted consumer behaviors. While this probably isn’t surprising, what is surprising is that $102 billion of the merchandise bought online was returned. Worse yet, $7.7 billion worth of those returns were deemed fraudulent.

If that’s the cost of doing business nowadays, it’s time to change how business is done.

The consumer journey creates a real opportunity for every return to improve your consumer experience. To build brand loyalty. To reduce risk, maximize profit, and drive new sales.

Think fast – and rethink how you handle returns

Recognizing that returns are good for business is an important shift in thinking for retailers. This will enable you to drop old notions of business strategy and implement new approaches to combat rising returns while keeping your shoppers top of mind. Consider:

  • Your “best” consumers often make the most returns
  • In-store returns are a human connection point with online shoppers
  • Positive return experiences are positive brand experiences

All of which creates a real opportunity for every return to improve your consumer experience. To build brand loyalty. To reduce risk, maximize profit, and drive new sales.

Every return is an opportunity – grab it

For shoppers, the return process is often a source of dread. But there’s no rule that says it has to be that way. As a retailer, you can rethink that process and make every return experience a positive one by ensuring efficiency and engaging consumers at every step of their journey.

Here are three ways to do just that:

1. Surprise and delight loyal consumers

Don’t your “best” consumers deserve a little more? Turn returns into rewarding experiences with personalized savings based on their shopping history. By offering an instant discount on related products, on top of their money back for the return, you’ll build brand loyalty and encourage another purchase that drives new sales above and beyond the cost of the return.

2. Turn frustration into a frictionless experience
Your “best” shoppers don’t deserve a headache when returning a product. Leverage transaction data to quickly identify these “good” consumers, accelerate the return process, and improve their experience. On the flip side, that data can also be used to alert your system of potential loss, raise the flag on “bad” actors, and recommend that the return be stopped.

3. Connect and convert online shoppers
When done right, online shopping is an easy, efficient, and even enjoyable process. Yet returns are often the opposite. Therein lies your opportunity to turn an expected problem into a seamless and surprising experience. When online shoppers return products in-store, offer a coupon to be used immediately – encouraging them to explore your brand and buy even more.

Using the power of engagement at every touchpoint, you can reverse return dread and enhance the consumer experience – all while reducing risk and maximizing profit. With returns rising across the retail industry, this new approach is fast becoming the cost of doing (better) business.



1 Consumer Returns in the Retail Industry 2020. January 2021. National Retail Federation and Appriss Retail.

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Tom Rittman, Vice President, Marketing, Appriss Retail

Tom Rittman, vice president of Marketing at Appriss Retail, is responsible for all aspects of branding, marketing, and business development. Prior to joining Appriss Retail, Tom served as the vice president of marketing for Datavantage, a retail technology company that is now part of Oracle. He holds his bachelor’s degree in Marketing from the University of Akron.

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