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After all the anticipation and waiting, you’ve finally opened your holiday gift and…of course, it’s not the right [size/color/fit/brand/model/age-group/etc]. Like many of us, you’re now faced with the ultimate question: what to do about returns, exchanges or refunds.
Since we at STELLAService knew you’d ask, we went ahead and road-tested the top 25 largest online retailers to see which ones have the most customer-friendly returns and refund processes (we tested the same 25 retailers that we evaluated in the 2011 Cyber Monday Customer Service Study).
As part of this assessment, we ordered and returned (via USPS standard ground) several products from each retailer to various parts of the country over the last few weeks (understanding it may be even tougher during the days and weeks after Christmas). Your return and refund experience, as well as the policies you’re up against, will vary depending on where and when the gifter ordered your present.
Several top retailers extended their normal return windows to account for the large number of people who will need to initiate returns or refunds over the next few weeks. If retailers can extend their policies during the holidays, can’t they just leave them extended during the rest of the year?
It’s also worth noting the varying refund processing times. While retailers often blame banks for slow refunds, our data suggests that the companies’ return processing cycle (i.e. the time to process a return and initiate a refund after the returned product reaches their warehouse) has a lot to do with how quick the retailers are in getting you your money back. As usual, some companies go out of their way to make life easier and better for their customers, and some don’t.
Are you wondering how the top online retailers rank after taking into account all of the major customer service metrics during the holidays? So are we…stay tuned!
One of the conveniences of online shopping is not having to leave your house to retrieve the product. The same should go for returns. Therefore, it should not be surprising that an easy returns process is something online shoppers seek out. This is especially true when shoppers buy clothes and books, the top two products purchased online that are returned or exchanged.
However, last week, the United States Postal Service announced it was considering closing 3,653 municipal post offices. The post offices in consideration are located mostly in rural areas and their closure would affect hundreds of thousands of people that depend on their services.
Since an estimated 62% of online shoppers prefer to return products purchased online via the mail instead of to the brick-and-mortar store (when a brick-and-mortar store exists) the potential shut-down of thousands of post offices means it will be a whole lot more difficult to return a product for those people whose local post offices close. In the rural areas in which post offices were proposed to be shut down, people likely live further from the closest brick-and-mortar version of their favorite retailer than the second-closest post office.
Thankfully, online shoppers may benefit from this news if online retailers react accordingly so as to maintain an easy returns process. Shoppers may start demanding that companies provide more accurate product descriptions and images to prevent the need for a return in the first place. A second feature from which consumers would benefit is if retailers more frequently provide a prepaid USPS, FedEx, or UPS labels inside the original package, in case of a return. Who doesn’t love a prepaid label to avoid a trip to the post office and to prevent a 20 minute wait in that dreaded line?
STELLAService elite retailer Zappos provides on their site free return labels with a few clicks of a mouse, and they won’t even deduct it from your refund! Staples.com, another Elite retailer, will show up at your doorstep to pick up your return for no extra charge. Savvy shoppers also love UrbanOutfitters.com‘s free prepaid return label provided with the original shipment.
What are some other features you look for in a returns policy? I always like a few free yours-to-keep-even-if-you-return-the-rest samples in any package I get, except for the time I got deodorant, shampoo, AND perfume samples…trying to tell me something, Internet?!
When President Clinton’s strategist James Carville coined the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid” in the 1992 presidential campaign, it was recognition that the prevailing leadership (GW v1.0) was not focusing enough on the issue that mattered most to citizens: the economy.
In my opinion, what matters most to today’s online consumers (aside from price, which is rapidly converging) is also something that’s not garnering enough focus or attention from the leadership of the e-commerce community: the customer experience.
Our recent study with Ovum/Datamonitor (The Value of Great Customer Service_The Economic Impact) showed that there’s literally billions of dollars waiting to be earned by companies that are able to master the seemingly simple concept of providing great service. Some sites like Zappos.com, Diapers.com, BlueNile.com and a few others have successfully embraced this mission, but it’s surprising how many large online businesses still do not make the customer experience their #1 priority.
Delivering happiness should be the goal (at least on some level) for all organizations, from non-profits to NGOs to trade groups or government agencies.
Last week, an unlikely name joined the list of organizations moving toward the successful, customer-obsessed model of doing business – the U.S. Postal Service! If the USPS is committing the time, money and resources to improve the customer experience for its 150+ million addressed customers, then no business is exempt from this responsibility.
The USPS recently announced the launch of “a new measurement system designed to better understand customers’ total experience doing business with USPS at every level of the organization.” Cheers to that.
Consistently measuring, monitoring and understanding the end-to-end customer experience is a must-have initiative for 2010 if it’s not already in action. While an internally designed and executed program for measuring the customer experience might sound like a good plan, it’s not. The only way senior leadership will ever feel comfortable that they have “on-the-ground insight” into the experiences of customers is if a truly objective third-party conducts the research and analysis. No room for bias. No room for masking weaknesses to save face. Pure and simple data from an independent source tells the story.
To be continued…