Consumer returns preferences: Great carrier options can really carry a returns policy

The pandemic and the resulting eCommerce boom highlighted a myriad of shortcomings in the online shopping experience. Covid-19 travel restrictions (not aided by Brexit early this year too) coupled with a sharp jump in an unprecedented level of online orders put a huge strain on retail’s delivery network. Some carriers had reduced workforces and others were completed halted for weeks or even months. Consequently, retailers were often left with few or no options for getting goods to customers which of course extended to their returns. Ensuring you had multiple carrier services and lockdown-resistance methods of receiving returns (such as lockers or home collections) became a top priority for brands across the world. Retailers realised the dangers of over reliance on a single courier.

But having a flexible logistics network does not just make practical sense for businesses, it is also vital for a satisfactory consumer experience. 79% of customers check the returns policy before making a purchase, with 42% abandoning their basket if they do not like what they see. But what are they looking for? Simply put, consumers want choice and convenience. Long gone are the days where a customer had to do all the work getting a return back to you. The returns process should be as painless as possible. They want to see affordable prices, different audiences require different collection or drop off points, and most don’t want to have to finally reorder that black ink cartridge they have been putting off just to return a pair of socks.

Here’s a snapshot from our recent Retail Returns Study 2021, delving into the wants of consumers for the types of carrier services and method options offered, which can be downloaded here.

What are consumers returns preferences. A look at the 6 most popular carrier options

The trusted post office

According to ZigZag Global’s Retail Returns Survey 2021, 48% of respondents preferred to return their item to a post office. This may be as a result of post offices being the most common returns service offered by retailers with consumers familiar with the process. Alternatively, post offices are commonplace in local high streets and seen as trusted experts for ensuring returns are handled professionally, resulting in a better chance of a hassle-free refund for the consumers.

Younger shoppers are more likely to favour returning to a post office or collection point whereas any shoppers over the age of 36 are more likely to value a courier pick up from home. Retailers should ensure that they offer the most appropriate carrier options in relation to their core customer base. Should a retailer have both post office and home collection services, it is well worth highlighting on the returns policy page.

Collection from home: A luxury or necessity for consumers?

Closely following the preference of returning to a post office, 46% of customers also signalled that a courier collecting from their home would be their most preferred option. The coronavirus pandemic caused widespread disruption to the UK, with many people encouraged where possible to work from home. With people spending more time than ever at home, they are readily available for the more convenient home collection service. It is also reasonable to assume that companies will largely remain flexible in a post-covid world, meaning this trend is unlikely to disappear once lockdown is over.

Data pulled from retailers using the ZigZag Global online returns portal suggests that home collection is increasingly being utilised. Not all retailers offer this slightly more expensive home collection service to customers but for those that did, home collections were requested 27% more after lockdown in 2020 than they were for the same period in 2019.

Consumer return preferences returning to the high street

Returning to the high street

When the UK emerged from its first lockdown in July 2020, store footfall diminished by 48% year-on-year across the high street. Over the Christmas peak period, this worrying trend continued with non-essential stores experiencing a 34% decline in footfall. However, ZigZag’s study still showed that 33% of consumers favour returning to a retail store as a potential preference despite making the purchase online. With many retailers still not offering a live exchanges feature during their online returns process, consumers perhaps favour returning to physical stores so they can easily exchange unwanted items. This is particularly true due to sizing or colour discrepancies.

Using a convenient carrier service: location, location, location

58% of UK shoppers consider themselves a “frequent returner”, with an astounding, yet unsurprising, 68% of 18–25-year-olds agreeing this applied to them. Whilst ZigZag statistics show Monday is the most popular day for returns, every day of the week has high return volumes. Of those surveyed, 25% selected a convenience or local store as a return preference option. Not only is it an indication that online shoppers are keen to visit physical essential stores, but they are likely to pick a drop-off point that is on the way to doing another errand or during their commute.

Best practice for your policy: Putting your carriers on display

The best returns policies allow online shoppers to check the carrier options prior to purchasing. As stated earlier, 79% of customers check the returns policy before buying and many will be looking to see just how easy the retailer is making the process. Have multiple carrier options and PUDO locations available, why not show them off?

Next is a retailer getting it right. Their returns policy page outlines the carrier options available clearly alongside the cost of using them. They then provide links to identify the most convenient or closest drop-off points available to the customer based on address.

25% of consumers would be prepared to pay more for a premium return that was convenient such as a home collection. Clearly, it’s not all about free returns. Customers value the choice of various carrier options even if they come at a price. Interestingly, despite collection from home being favoured by older generations, shoppers aged between 18 and 25 are the most willing to pay for a premium option at 36%.

Greener carrier options

Consumers don't necessarily know the most sustainable carrier option

ZigZag’s Retail Returns Survey 2021 unveiled that 9% of consumers preferred using a locker or collection point to make a return. Locker services, such as InPost Lockers which is available for ZigZag Global retailers, are one of the latest innovations to target the issues surrounding delivering to and picking up returns from crowded inner cities, and retailers are likely to continue adopting the contactless PUDO solution amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

ZigZag expects a more health conscious and environment-conscious consumer to emerge after the pandemic, with consumers opting to use the contactless InPost lockers as a means of continuing social distancing practices long into the future. The introduction of lockers eliminates the carbon emissions from missed deliveries and makes courier journeys more efficient by travelling to a single location rather than visiting multiple houses or offices.

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ZigZag Global's unrivalled returns delivery network

If you are interested in finding out more about generating loyalty and improving your returns experience, make sure you download the ‘ZigZag Global Retail Returns Study 2021: What do consumers really want?’ Whitepaper here >>