Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

What 2022 has in store for retail returns

Though the past year has been a challenging one for retailers, especially from a logistics standpoint with driver shortages, COVID-19, fuel shortages, and Brexit. It has also presented an opportunity for reflection and innovation. 

Al Gerrie, CEO at returns specialist ZigZag Global, shares his thoughts on what’s going to change in retail returns over the next twelve months, from return to gift card to more sustainable and greater collection options.

Return to gift card offers greater rewards

Retailers are looking for more innovative ways to speed up the returns process as customer expectations for fast returns continue to grow. We’ve seen many retailers offering instant refunds to their VIP customers. The most valuable, regular shoppers will naturally also be high volume returners as they purchase multiple sizes and colours at once to ensure they get the product right the first time. Though the usual unpacking and checks still need to be made, these shoppers are trusted and therefore instant returns (often only up to a certain value) can ensure customer satisfaction and reduce call centre contact.

In addition to instant refunds, I expect to see returns to gift card increase in popularity. Currently, many retailers are testing incentives to help retain shoppers who choose this option, such as a £55 gift card credit for a £50 return. It benefits the retailer by ensuring repeat purchase, so the sale is not lost and the consumer can enjoy a boost in spending. It’s a win-win for both shoppers and retailers.

Collect choices

Remote working is here to stay for many, which means that shoppers are spending more time at home. So, where they previously might have dropped off their return on their way to work or on their lunch break, this might not be their preferred option now. Retailers will need to provide more choice for the remote worker. As such, I expect to see more retailers offering collections from home.

Currently collection from home is the fourth most popular returns option for consumers according to our research, just ahead of the fastest growing option — lockers. This contactless collection option offered by lockers will continue to increase in popularity as people feel safer using these methods and in many cases, prefer the flexibility of a 24-hour drop off spot.

One-stop weekly shop

Following that ilk, supermarkets have become the third most popular drop off location after post and parcel shops. For many shoppers, a trip to the supermarket is a weekly, if not more frequent occurrence. So it makes perfect sense that shoppers would like to get as much done as possible whilst they’re there. 

I expect more retailers to take advantage of this by working with supermarkets to offer a more convenient returns option — shoppers will love being able to tick off many of their ‘chores’ in one go.

‘Green’ returns on the rise

Sustainability continues to be a hot button issue, not just for businesses but also for consumers and I don’t see this slowing down in 2022. If anything, I think it will become more of a deciding factor. Customers will be demanding more green options for returning their goods and therefore I expect to see more retailers utilising couriers and partners with eco-friendly options such as electric vehicles and bicycles.

Online returns to equal in-store returns 

Again, with people spending more time at home, returning to the store isn’t always the most convenient option. To reduce customer friction and frustrations, I expect more retailers to incorporate exchanges into their standard returns policy — perhaps Buy Online, Exchange Online (BOEO). Not only does it benefit the customer but it also encourages great customer retention and loyalty.

Paperless and printerless returns

One of the benefits to come from the recent challenges is a greater adoption and understanding for technologies such as QR codes. As retailers and consumers both look to be more environmentally friendly, I expect to see less paper involved in both packaging and the returns process. 

Over 60% of consumers already prefer a labelless return that they do not have to print at home. It’s also simpler for both retailers and shoppers to process their returns with the click of a button rather than ensuring you have all the right paperwork. It also allows retailers to understand and plan for exactly what’s being returned ahead of time and eliminates some human error.

It’s all about branding

Retailers now view returns as one of the most important parts of their consumer proposition. Beautiful user experience and branding is now high up on the retailer wish list too. Seamless, branded returns portals are the future as retailers need to up their game to keep their customers happy and protect their image at the same time.

Data holds the key

Data-driven decision-making is also a key reason retailers are moving away from the label in the box. Brands are increasingly moving towards direct-to-consumer offerings too, but they all want to know ‘who, what, where,when and why’ products are being returned. Reporting and dashboards offering greater insights and visibility over what is coming back is helping retailers to better manage their supply chain in what will undoubtedly be another tough year ahead.