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Should Ecommerce Retailers Offer Free Returns?

Free shipping has become a major marketing and selling point for many ecommerce companies.   And some consumers associate free shipping with free return shipping as well.  Free shipping on returns becomes an effective marketing tool and helps you stand out from the competition.  While some shoppers feel more comfortable purchasing online when there is a free return option, make sure you safeguard your profit margins.

Marketing Tool

Keep in mind that free shipping on returns should be used as a marketing tool.  In the competitive online marketplace, it should be part of your marketing message.  If you are an apparel or footwear retailer, free returns have become commonplace to encourage customers to purchase online instead of in a brick-and-mortar environment.  This flexibility earns repeat business from customers.

Lean Return Shipping

Returns should be shipped back as economically as possible.  For example, all returns should be sent back with standard ground delivery service from the USPS.  The longer delivery window is usually not a big issue for returned merchandise, and will save you a lot of money in the long run.

Customer Loyalty Program

You don’t want to lose any customers so repeat business is imperative to turning a profit.  The best way to encourage repeat business is with a customer loyalty program.   A loyalty program helps your business in other ways by giving you a solid list of active buyers for new product or service launches.  Customers are also more willing to interact on social media to talk about your products, which results in positive reviews.

Free Returns for Exchanges

Sometimes a consumer orders one product only to discover they really needed or wanted something else.  When customers have to pay to return that first item, they might be hesitant to buy from you again.  So, you lose the cost of the original item as well as the potential to get more sales from this customer in the future.  A company that offers hassle-free returns with an exchange of equal or greater value will make customers feel appreciated and they will frequent the establishment more frequently.

Paid-for Subscriber List

Newsletters will keep customers informed of new products, sales, recalls, and other important information.  By asking for consumers to pay a nominal fee to get on your list, you can offer multiple benefits.  This encourages a long-term relationship with the customer who feels they get the inside scoop on buying opportunities and discounts.

Free returns should make sense for your type of business and be done in a way in which you will not lose money.  Your returns policy should clearly state the conditions for a free return and show that you stand by your products.  Above all, returns should be easy for the customer to complete, regardless if they are free or not.  Offering your customers a positive customer service experience with a return will encourage them to shop with you again.