- The specialist for operations experience, parcelLab, tested the return experience at 100 of the largest German online shops.
- The result: the dealers are very generous with the return deadlines. Otherwise, the return could be even more convenient for the customer.
- Returns portals are a big trend.
Online retailers who want to score with an outstanding customer experience would therefore do well to improve the return experience as well. The specialist for Operations Experience, parcelLab, has analyzed returns in online retail at 100 of the largest German retailers – with mixed results.
Germany’s online retailers are generally very generous when it comes to return deadlines. Every second retailer extends their return periods beyond the legal minimum. Under pressure from big players like Amazon with a flat 30-day right of return or Zalando with 100 days, other retailers are also forced to meet their customers with accommodating deadlines.
Furniture senders grant the longest deadlines for returns in online retail
Furniture mail-order companies are particularly generous in this regard. Of 17 providers in the test, almost three quarters grant exchange rights over three weeks. At the top is Ikea with a total of 365 days, Obi allows 90 days to return and Home24 grants 30 days. In contrast, the US furniture retailer Wayfair keeps the return period relatively short at 14 days. There is also often a long right of exchange in online fashion stores. 61 percent of the fashion retailers in the top 100 ranking often offer their customers up to 30 days to think about it. In contrast, it is striking that classic catalog mailers are often limited to the two weeks required by law.
There is a clear trend in the handling of returns: Fewer and fewer retailers (36 instead of 40 as in the previous year) are adding return stickers to their parcels, instead offering customers the option of downloading them online (49 instead of 26 in the previous year). For customers, this means a slight extra effort compared to a return label. However, this is offset by the retailer if customers are guided through the process in an understandable and transparent manner via a returns portal – and can simply choose between exchanging for a different size, complaint or return, for example. For the dealers themselves, the procedure has the clear advantage that they can get an early overview of which goods will be coming back to them shortly.
A major shortcoming in terms of usability is when customers have to print out the return label themselves. After all, not every online customer has a functioning printer and printer paper at hand as a matter of course. Nevertheless, only 12 of the tested retailers with a return portal give their customers the choice of whether they want to print out the label or generate a corresponding barcode, which is then scanned locally at the parcel shop.
Returns portals are still limited in their functionalities
A total of 40 of the top 100 online retailers in Germany now use a returns portal for processing. Here, however, the functionalities are still very limited: Only half of the portals tested ask for a reason for the return. This customer feedback is essential for the optimization of return rates. Customers can only choose between exchanges and refunds at 27 retailers.
Ninety percent of the top 100 retailers in Germany return unwanted products free of charge. The textile industry is particularly generous here. Of the 36 retailers in the test, all offer free returns. In the sport and leisure segment, too, all returns are free of charge. On the other hand, senders in the beauty, cosmetics and food sectors are less accommodating. Almost every third retailer here lets the customer bear the costs for the return shipments. Incidentally, one of the few retailers who let customers pay for the return themselves is Ikea. This also applies to furniture deliveries that are made by a forwarding agent. Here customers have the choice of commissioning a freight forwarder for their own account or of bringing the goods to the nearest Ikea furniture store themselves.
Returns processing would be as convenient as possible for customers if dealers simply had the return items picked up again. However, this service is not very widespread in this country. Only Apple, HP, H&M and Mytoys pick up goods that were delivered by normal parcel delivery and not just by a forwarding agency.
Returns in online trading: Communication still needs to be optimized
When it comes to returns communication, there is still room for improvement: 73 of the top 100 retailers send their customers an email informing them that their return has been received. This value has further improved compared to 2018 (63 dealers). However, there is still reluctance to state the duration of the reimbursement: only 53 retailers give a time frame here. However, this information is then mostly binding.
Also read: Customer centricity – why wrong shipping packaging can destroy the first impression with the customer.