Returns are a critically important interaction for brands—a make-or-break point in the customer journey. It’s a time when customers are often at their unhappiest, and emotions can run high.
Yet returns are also a complex and expensive challenge that few retailers have been able to effectively master on their own. Which is why Cadillac Fairview is now among the companies that are giving retailers the option of having returns managed by a third-party provider—in this case, ReturnBear.
Through ReturnBear hubs set up in CF-owned shopping malls, consumers can return products from any participating retailer, whether it’s an online-only player or a physical store. Consumers can also combine all their returns (as long as the products were purchased from ReturnBear partners) and ship them to the nearest hub, where each return is handled on behalf of each retailer.
It’s a convenient solution, but one that has the potential to compromise a brand’s integrity—at a time when customers may be questioning it.
Their experience can dictate not only whether they will shop the brand again, but also what they might share about the experience with their network.
Ultimately, the convenience and cost-savings of a third-party environment could cost a brand in terms of top-line revenue.
So how to minimize that risk? By maintaining control of the return experience:
1. Develop communications that third parties can provide customers.
Offer takeaways such as postcards that the return hub can hand out to customers, ensuring they leave feeling good about your brand. Be upfront in your messaging: Apologize to the customer for their having to return an item, and inform them of their options regarding refunds or credits. Suggest other products they may like, and if possible, provide them with a special offer for their inconvenience. These kinds of small details can go a long way to keeping them loyal.
2. Encourage customers to communicate directly with your brand, helping to ensure the third party is merely a drop box.
Be your customer’s first point of contact in the return process. Funnel them to your app or customer service team so that the interaction can be controlled. Once again, apologize for the inconvenience and offer them an incentive to return. Only then are they assigned a code that enables them to complete the actual return.
3. Replicate a third-party process within your brand.
Invest in an out-of-store pop-up strictly for returns—a quick, in-and-out process that enables you to offer the convenience of a third party while controlling the entire interaction. With returns now such a huge part of the customer experience, brands need to ask themselves whether they should be giving this process more weight and integrating it more formally into their business model.