The American Customer Satisfaction Index (commonly referred to as ACSI) recently released its Retail Report for 2014 and the findings may surprise you. The report found that consumers are more satisfied with online retailers than they are with brick and mortar stores. Think about that for a minute: stores – where customers get one-on-one attention from knowledgeable sales reps, where they can touch and feel products before purchasing them – scored lower than online retail in customer satisfaction. In fact, satisfaction scores for stores decreased 1.4 percent from the previous year to an average score of 78.6 (on a scale of 0 to 100), while e-retailers’ scores increased 5.1 percent to 82. According to ACSI, some of this can be attributed to the fact that online retailers were better prepared for winter storms, which wreaked havoc on the 2013 holiday shopping season. From the report: “As online sales reached record levels this holiday season, retailers and shippers were better prepared and there were far fewer incidents with delivery.” Holidays aside, it’s customer-obsessed e-tailers that consistently score high in satisfaction surveys – not only because of their e-commerce sites, but because of their easy returns processes. Here are five tips for making delivery a customer satisfaction differentiator:
  1. Select a reliable shipping and returns partner: No matter how much a shopper loves your products, if delivery and returns are a weak point, they won’t bother shopping with you again. It’s imperative to select a reputable shipping partner that can help improve the customer experience by providing additional value. This may come in the form of data, visibility, brand care, etc. A true partner will also help lower your operational costs and other departmental costs, including customer service.
  2. Use returns as a way to drive sales: If you’re a pure-play e-tailer, shoppers don’t have the luxury of trying something on in your store. By offering easy returns, you are encouraging shoppers to buy an item in more than one size to determine which one to keep and which to ship back. According to a 2014 comScore study, 82% of respondents said they would complete an online purchase if they could return the item to a store or have free return shipping. Free shipping could be offered to premium customers, during seasonal spikes or as a limited-time offer to incent purchases. The alternative might be for the shopper to decide to buy at one of your competitor’s stores, where they can try the product on before purchasing. And in today’s competitive landscape, can any retailer afford that risk?
  3. Clearly articulate your returns policy: We can’t stress enough how important this is, as 66% of shoppers will research your returns policy before making a purchase (source: comScore). If they know a shipping label will be provided to them should they need to return an item, they are much more likely to buy from you.
  4. Consider offering instant refunds: When a shopper sends something back to a retailer, they are often pleasantly surprised when a retailer offers instant refunds or store credit. Rather than wait until the return reaches the warehouse, and another 5-7 days for the credit to appear on a shopper’s credit card statement, the shopper is instantly refunded or credited for their return while the package is still in transit.
  5. Remarket to shoppers who return items: By partnering with your marketing and promotions team, you can quickly and easily target shoppers that made recent returns with a special offer or incentive to get them to shop with you again. This shows you understand their shopping behavior, which goes a long way in engendering loyalty.
Of course there are other factors that affect e-tailers’ customer satisfaction scores, such as having sites that are easy to navigate, pages that load quickly, useful product images and efficient checkout processes, but returns also play a critical role in customer satisfaction. To learn more about what customers are looking for in their e-commerce engagements, visit the ACSI website and download the full Retail Report.