Simplicity is the Key for Returns Success

Aaron Clements | Oct. 29, 2020, 11:20 p.m.

In the returns game brands that focus on simplicity and eliminating friction for their customers are more likely to get new purchases from those same customers. What most brands get wrong is they create too much complexity and/or don’t have a self service returns feature. Still, many have the latter but continue to use policies or require steps that make it hard for their customers to efficiently submit a return.

The sooner a brand realizes returns are a new reality in online commerce and implements the tools and policies to make them easier, the better off they’ll be in the long run.

The way customers interact with brands, service companies and other product companies has evolved to where people expect things to be intuitive or frictionless. Think about getting a new iPhone or Mac and how you’re easily guided through the setup.

Consider the major retailers like Amazon, Nordstrom and Nike, who make returns thoughtless. Amazon has started to sometimes tell a customer to keep the item rather than return it. They understand that bogging someone down in a return is causing more harm than good and in these instances more cost efficient to not have it sent back to their distribution center.

Letting your customers easily find where they can process a return, having the tools to enable it and eliminating the need to contact you in the process is essential to replicate this sort of intuitive and friction free experience.

The key is to look at returns as an investment in your brand growth


So why do the majority of brands still get this wrong?

It’s simple. In short, they are maintaining a defensive posture and wrongly thinking that by avoiding returns they will grow their business. As noted in our other article titled “Returns Best Practices for E-Commerce Brands”, most will not do the “pre” or up front work to mitigate returns but will rather do everything possible to keep a customer from returning product after the fact. This stems from a shortsighted and cultural conditioned view of near term versus long term thinking. Let’s face it, it’s hard to think long term when everything around us is saying “now, now, now”.

This is highly common with smaller brands who are watching every penny. And this matters, but not like you think. Consider how odd it sounds when you read it out like this: “I’m trying to grow my brand so I will scrutinize my customer returns and do everything possible to keep them from returning something, even penalize them”.

Sounds crazy right? But that’s the core of the mindset and it typically involves complex return rules, making customer’s send pictures before they can return something or making customers contact you, or wait for approvals, and pay a restocking fee, to name a few. The key is to look at returns as an investment in your brand growth.

What does simplicity look like in practice? The first thing to do is audit your returns strategy, systems and policies. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and think about how easy you want it to be for you to return something.  Now, review your return policy and the end to end return process and ask yourself these questions.

  1. Is my policy simple, clearly stated and on every touch point; website, order confirmations, shipping confirmations, packing slip etc.?
  2. Is my policy no questions asked?
  3. Is it clear what I should expect during the return process e.g. timing of refund, shipping of exchange product or issuance of store credits?
  4. Do I have a returns platform that automates the process?
  5. Have I given my customer the ability to exchange or get store credits?
  6. Can my customer return something without having to contact me?
  7. Do I have automations to update my customer when it’s in transit back to the warehouse and has been delivered?
  8. Do I have a post return process to re-market to that customer?

Brands invest thousands of dollars in marketing campaigns to gain new customers so why would they not invest in making returns part of the total customer experience so they can build loyalty and get new sales with a customer who’s already handed over their hard earned money?

Easy returns = investment in loyalty = brand sales growth


Every marketing expert will tell you that repeat customers spend more money than new ones. A quick review of any brand’s analytics will validate this. Ultimately this requires a paradigm shift in thinking, and it’s admittedly hard but will pay dividends. It falls under a “just take care of your customers” mindset.

But you have to trust the process and belief in the idea that making the total interaction memorable and easy, works. Everyone has experienced this and knows how good it feels to shop with a brand that makes everything a dream. Not only are you likely to tell other people, you’re likely to keep shopping with them.

What are you waiting for? Go ahead and follow your gut to simplify your returns so you can increase loyalty and grow sales!

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