Amazon Now Offers Free Returns… at the Sellers’ Expense
As of last week, U.S. seller-fulfilled returns that are within Amazon’s returns policy will be free of charge. Amazon will be providing customers with prepaid return labels on the sellers’ behalf.
Certain products, such as items with specialized shipping or handling requirements, items requiring insurance, items that are non-returnable by law, items cheaper than their shipping cost, and digital goods are exempt from this new policy. While this is great news for consumers, the change has proven to be a point of contention for sellers. In fact, the policy change is being seen by many sellers as just another reason why they feel as though Amazon prioritizes consumers’ wants over what sellers need to succeed.
“Managing e-commerce returns effectively and efficiently has become an increasingly critical part of all omnichannel retail operations,” explains Nick McLean, CEO of Omnichannel Order Management Firm, OrderDynamics. “Amazon’s extension of free shipping […] will put retailers in a bind, as those who sell on Amazon scramble to find effective tools for inventory visibility.” For retailers selling outside of Amazon, the pressure to offer similar convenience to consumers will push them in the same direction”
McLean further predicts that, for retailers selling outside of Amazon, the pressure to offer better return policies will continue to grow – and we’re inclined to agree. We’re already seeing brands and retailers going above and beyond to offer consumers the best possible return experience. Considering that 81% of shoppers want simple returns and 79% of them want free return shipping, it’s imperative that retailers keep their policies competitive, and above all, convenient.
The best returns are free
When it comes to returns, we all know what consumers want: 1) an easy process, 2) a longer grace period, and of course 3) no shipping fees. Truthfully, even companies without the first two options are still sure to inspire at least a modicum of good will amongst their customers. However, brands and retailers that boast all three are the ones really leading the industry.
Upstart brand Casper (and their Canadian counterpart, Endy) disrupted the industry by offering customers a more convenient way to shop for mattresses than ever before. On top of expecting a neatly packaged, lightweight, durable and comfortable mattress delivered straight to their door step, consumers are also treated to a 100-night free trial. Returns are free for those not happy with their purchase.
Online shoe retailer Zappos is another company known for offering an incredibly long return period – the company allows customers to return items, free of charge, a full year after their purchase.
Try before you buy
Other companies are getting more creative with their returns policy, offering customers the option to “Try before you buy.” Gone are the days of trekking to a brick and mortar store, and having to wait in line before trying on a pile of clothes in a cramped fitting room. Consumers are now able to order pieces online and try them on in the comfort of their own homes. Once having chosen what (if any) items they’d like to keep, shoppers can return items, free of charge.
Oft-talked about underwear company Third Love is perhaps the most revolutionary example of this. While the time limit is a pretty standard 30 days, consumers are encouraged to wear the items to fully get the feel for whether they like them or not. That’s right, items can either be returned unused, with tags still attached or completely used with no tags attached at all!
Optical retailer Warby Parker and men’s apparel brand Frank + Oak both also similar options for customers unsure of what styles will suit them best. Warby Parker offers consumers 5 frames to try on for 5 days, with both shipping and return fees covered by the company. Frank + Oak also offers free shipping both ways, and tailors the experience by way of an online “personal stylist.” Consumers need only to fill out a questionnaire before they are sent a package of specially curated looks that will hopefully suit their needs. Anything they are unhappy with, they can return within 60 days.
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