For B2C and B2B ecommerce sites, returns can be both a blessing and a curse. Statistics show that 92 percent of ecommerce shoppers say that they'll buy again if returns are easy; but on the flip side, a third of all e-commerce products are returned, compared to 8.89 percent in brick and mortar stores.
Research firm Frost and Sullivan projects that B2B and retail ecommerce will grow to $12 trillion globally by 2020 -- but this massive growth makes it even more crucial for ecommerce companies to control returns before they spiral out of control.
These three tips can help B2B (as well as B2C) retailers reduce their return rate, without reducing their rate of return customers.
1. Use Online Tools and Analytics
In the US, return rates of apparel purchased online can reach as high as 40 percent. Retailers are finding that these numbers can be mitigated, however, by using a number of ecommerce solutions and digital marketing strategies. These include the following:
- Product videos (posted on the company site and on social media sites such as YouTube)
- High resolution images (with zoom features) of the product
- Virtual sizing tools, such as those offered by True Fit. These data-driven platforms enable retailers to provide clients with more-personalized information concerning apparel fit, and also provide companies with marketing and client-targeting analytics.
In addition, both B2C and B2B companies can use analytics tools and ecommerce platforms to identify client preferences, as well as determine which items are being returned by clients more frequently -- and why.
2. Create a Clear Return Policy
By making the return policy clear from the outset, client confusion can be avoided -- and a clearly-worded return policy can also mitigate the risks of client abuse via "serial returns" (which unfortunately does happen).
The return policy should be easy to find on the company website, and should clearly indicate the criteria for returns, as well as the length of time a client has before the return window expires. Also, B2B companies often fall into the trap of using too much "legalese," so be sure to use plain English that can be easily understood. Here's another reason for clarity: When return policies aren't clear, credit card companies often favor the client rather than the merchant.
3. Ramp Up Customer Service
Studies show that 75 percent of B2B companies rely upon word-of-mouth (including social media) when making their purchase decisions. This means that it's essential to maintain a stellar, trustworthy reputation for customer service -- and returns are a part of that equation. Here are three tips that can help:
- Hire a fulfillment partner. Fulfillment companies specialize in scanning and shipping B2B ecommerce items in a timely manner, with minimal loss or damage during transit. Minimizing damage means minimizing returns as well.
- Provide easy-access personal customer service, via chat, phone or email. The more information a client has about a product, the more informed that client will be -- and the less likely to return items.
- If returns are inevitable, create a bulk shipping contract for B2B client returns. This way, clients can return multiple items in one shipment, thus reducing return shipping costs. This is especially cost-effective for companies offering free (or reduced-rate) returns. Likewise, if items arrive damaged, replacement items should be provided at no additional shipping cost -- but by allowing the client to keep the damaged items, companies can avoid having to pay for the return shipping.
One more tip: Many B2B companies are turning to online auctions as a way to quickly sell returned/excess inventory and recoup some of their losses.
Returns don't have to be a liability for a B2B company. With a bit of strategic thinking and the right analytics tools you can reduce returns, increase customer satisfaction and even offer a return policy that's viewed as a customer service asset.
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