Post-holiday returns are a fact of life for retailers, but they can avoid the annoying customer experiences that lead to negative reviews and social media pans. Here are 5 ways retailers can make returns easier for customers, and make them more likely to trust those merchants in the future. Even negative reviews can be turned into a positive engagement with the shopper.

Joe Fuca, CEO, Reputation.com

Joe Fuca, CEO, Reputation.com

With the holidays now behind us, retailers have another challenge to navigate: Return season.

That’s right. Now that the holiday music has ended and the decorations have disappeared, many of those carefully purchased and beautifully wrapped gifts are headed back to the stores—and shoppers are tired, frustrated and ready to complain.

This year, with online shopping on the rise, epic portions of holiday returns are expected to follow. The National Retail Federation estimates that as many 30 percent of purchases will be returned.

A high rate of returns can be devastating for retailers’ bottom line, and the return process can be filled with friction on both sides of the counter. How can merchants assure that customers have a positive customer experience when they least expect it? If your store receives a negative review highlighting long return lines, or someone didn’t have a receipt and had to take a store credit instead of cash—how can it be handled gracefully—avoiding a reputation disaster?

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If a customer knows they can buy something and it won’t be a hassle to return it if it doesn’t work out, they’re more likely to shop with you instead of a competitor.

Here are five best practices for not only avoiding negative reviews, but inspiring customers to write positive reviews and transforming loyal customers to advocates.

1, Eliminate friction from the return process

Just as a frictionless checkout process creates good will and builds customer loyalty, a smooth and easy return process can send a message to the customer that you value their business and want them to continue shopping at your store. Even though you may be dealing with dissatisfied customers, returns are an essential opportunity to engage with them in a positive way.

In fact, frictionless returns may be even more important at creating customer stickiness, because it sends the message that shopping at your stores is low-risk. If a customer knows they can buy something and it won’t be a hassle to return it if it doesn’t work out, they’re more likely to shop with you instead of a competitor.

Case in point: Amazon had record sales in 2018, claiming 81% of internet sales against other big-box retailers from December 1-19. Have you ever returned something to Amazon? It’s seamless—they send you a return code and pay for shipping. All customers have to do is drop it off at UPS, and Amazon issues an immediate refund.. With returns that easy, it’s no wonder people continue to shop there, and Amazon’s profits continue to rise YoY.

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2. Think less about revenue and more about building long-term relationships

Zendesk reports that 82% of consumers say they’ve stopped doing business with a company because of bad customer service—but 89.7% of consumers would give companies a second chance before giving up on them for good if a complaint is handled properly and to their satisfaction.

Accepting returns graciously and making the process seamless builds trust and inspires good will and loyalty. Rather than a customer complaining to friends and on social media about what a pain it was to return something at one of your stores, they’ll leave feeling revealed and grateful that you made it easy. That positive customer sentiment will go a long way toward building a long-term relationship with the customer and earning their repeat business. In fact 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer found that trust is one of the most important factors in deciding which retailers people choose, and 82% of said trust influences their buying decisions.

3. Ask for reviews

After you’ve delivered a frictionless experience at the return counter, ask for a review. Research shows most reviews are positive, and a large volume of reviews has been proven to increase star ratings and rankings on major search engines suh as Google. People will write reviews when asked — 80% of customers are open to it. The more reviews you generate, the more accurately your ratings will reflect the great customer experience you deliver.

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There are many ways to generate reviews. Merchants can request customer reviews in-store, before the customer leaves or include review requests on printed receipts or during the online experience. In-store signage can include a QR code that customers can scan to go directly to your Google Reviews page. New mobile apps empower frontline sales staff to text customers links to review sites.

Whatever method, make sure it’s a priority in each of your locations to request reviews from all customers.

4. If you get a negative review don’t panic

Instead, respond. According to the 2019 Retail Reputation Report, most retailers aren’t responding to negative reviews. An analysis of the top 100 U.S. retailers reveals that, on average, they only respond to a paltry 2% of online reviews.

This is problematic for several reasons—not only does ignoring a customer complaint send the message that you simply don’t care about the negative experience they had with your brand, it’s a missed opportunity to engage with a customer and create positive sentiment.

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By acknowledging customer complaints, bad experience are put to rest and your brand commitment to resolving concerns takes center stage. The best way to combat any occasional negative reviews is to have lots of recent, positive reviews.

5. Analyze the feedback and take action

Negative reviews are a gift. They provide valuable information about customer expectations and where certain store locations are falling short. Retailers can learn to uncover trends in reviews, social media and surveys, and make targeted operational changes that improve customer experience. Not surprisingly, retailers who actively manage customer experience can have up to three times higher sales growth.

Seize the Opportunity to Shine

For retailers, managing customer experience and reputation is critical all year round, but returns season provides a prime opportunity for retailers to shine. Don’t let this opportunity go to waste! Instead of thinking about post-holiday returns as a bad thing, imagine the customer engagement opportunity each return brings—and make the most of it.

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Reputation.com provides services designed to help retailers and brands manage their online reputations.

 

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