These days, when people see the words ‘free shipping,’ they often connect with ‘free returns.’ According to comScore, consumers check out an e-commerce business’ policies with an eye on not having to pay to return an item.
82% of online shoppers polled in 2014 said they would make an online purchase on the Internet if the company offered free return shipping.
So offering free shipping on returns is a great marketing tool, used by companies such as Zappos, whose free return policy helped make shopping for shoes online finally make sense. And free returns will give you additional value and will make you stand out for customers. “It’s a benefit to be able to offer free returns,” says John Haber, CEO of Spend Management Experts in Atlanta. “It does impact the whole customer experience.”
But free returns doesn’t make sense for every business or even for every product. Here are three tips from shipping experts to help you devise a strategy that works for your customers and your bottom line.
Take a look at some successful Etsy sellers who often don’t offer return shipping outside of strategic periods, such as the two weeks around the holidays, notes Jason Malinak, an accountant in Colorado Springs, Colo. He wrote the e-book Etsy-preneurship (Wiley, 2012) to help Etsy sellers run their businesses.
If you do offer free return shipping, develop economical way of doing it. For instance, make the perk only available with standard ground delivery service from USPS, which experts stress is an economical option. The longer delivery window of two- to eight days, probably won’t be an issue for customers on returns, Haber adds. He also said that money can also be saved by reusing packaging for returns.
Remember: It’s a great marketing tool.
You can use free returns to earn customer loyalty. Zappos’ free return shipping strategy encourages customers to buy more shoes than they’ll end up keeping, notes Hal Altman, president and co-founder of Motivational Fulfillment & Logistical Services in Chino, Calif. He says it’s not unusual for potential customers to order five pairs of shoes and return four of them, he says. However, this opportunity and flexibility earns repeat business and a reputation as a leader in free return shipping, says Altman.