As consumers become more accustomed to shelter-in-place, online orders have surged every week since March 2020. As stores consider re-opening, it is apparent that consumer behavior will also look different than it did before the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Retailers must now consider the safety of their consumers and employees in all of their policies, especially for online returns.
We’re excited to present a new ‘Ask Me Anything’ series with our partners. We interviewed Stephanie Eisele Lacey, the Director of Enterprise Retail Partnerships at Happy Returns to learn more about how the brand has seen surges and disruption to the retail landscape since COVID-19. We also discuss what’s important for retailers in creating a consistent and positive customer delivery experience, and which return policies retailers should consider when re-opening to keep their teams and customers safe.
Continue below to read the interview:
Stephanie, tell us a little bit about you and your role at Happy Returns.
Stephanie: Retailers love to hate returns. Not only do they mean lost sales, but most retailers overspend up to 20% on inefficient processing and reverse logistics. They also have a huge impact on customer loyalty, with 87% of shoppers refusing to buy from a retailer again after a poor return experience. The planet hates returns too, thanks to the extreme amount of cardboard waste they produce.
We work with the industry’s most progressive retailers to flip the script, and embrace returns as a strategic opportunity to cut costs, reduce refunds, increase customer lifetime value, and enhance sustainability. As the Director of Retail Partnerships at Happy Returns, I’m responsible for seeking out retailers who would benefit from our returns solutions, as well as establishing partnerships with leading platforms, logistics, and tech providers across eCommerce.
How do you see retail and supplier roles shifting as consumer expectations continue to increase?
Stephanie: Retailers are used to getting what they want on-demand, which means they have higher expectations for online shopping—especially right now when eCommerce is in many cases the only available purchase channel. Retailers are more focused than ever on keeping both costs and refund rates low to balance this shift.
Further, over 61% of shoppers only buy from retailers with sustainable business practices. Retailers need to focus on how to get shoppers the items they want in the most eco-friendly way possible.
How do your customers think about creating a consistent last mile experience?
Stephanie: Convenience and reliability are paramount. At all costs, consumers want to avoid the inconvenience of hunting for order statuses. They expect to be provided this information upfront, without asking. Today’s consumer is also busier than ever, and relies on convenience to get day-to-day tasks done. The ability to reroute or reschedule delivery, and to know if their package isn’t going to arrive in time for this weekend’s getaway, are table stakes in today’s on-demand world.
With all of the supply chain disruption related to COVID-19, what’s the number one thing that retailers should be aware of? Do you have any advice to combat this?
Stephanie: It is vital for retailers to be 100% aware of all efficiencies in their existing processes. My best advice would be to look for every opportunity to reduce costs, without having to sacrifice anything to make it happen. Low shipping rates and software that reduces refunds by encouraging exchanges are great ways to achieve this. We’re currently offering a two-month free trial of our Online Return & Exchange Service to allow retailers to experience these cost-saving benefits firsthand.
What should retailers do now to prepare for upcoming supply shortages?
Stephanie: It’s important for retailers to maintain real-time visibility into existing inventory, no matter what stage of the supply chain journey they’re currently in. Not only does our platform provide insight into every stage of the reverse logistics process, but we also empower the retailer with the flexibility to decide if they want to allow exchange orders to be placed even when their inventory shows the items are not currently available.
By tracking all of their inventory, both en route from suppliers and from their current returns, retailers can safely choose which products are okay to oversell during low inventory periods and which are not. The benefit ultimately ensures they don’t miss out on a sale if they don’t have to.
What should retailers do to prepare for eventual re-opening?
Stephanie: From driving foot traffic to managing safety standards throughout the store, there will be a lot of moving parts when locations reopen. Retailers are tasked with creating a welcoming and comfortable experience for consumers in a world that is now very different. Relying on local jurisdiction will be important in understanding the requirements to reopen, including rules around social distancing signage, personal protective equipment, and limited store capacity.
There is also an opportunity to explore and test omni-channel offerings. To ease into this new retail environment, we’re seeing retailers optimize their store space, and offer both curbside pickup and contactless delivery.
At Happy Returns, we modified our own in-person return process to help avoid unnecessary contact, as a way to instill confidence in customers and location partners as they manage their returns when the economy reopens.
What things have changed that you think will stick around once this is all behind us? I believe retailers will be much more aware of weaknesses in their supply chains, and work hard to eliminate vulnerabilities, such as dependencies on one or two markets. On the flip side, enterprise retailers will be more conscious of having a surplus of inventory on hand at all times, and begin to operate at a much leaner scale.
For retailers that don’t reopen all of their currently closed locations once this is all behind us, there will be the compounded effect. With eCommerce return rates nearly 3x that of in-store shopping, it will become critical for retailers to provide a painless return experience in order to retain customers. With a solution like Happy Returns, retailers have the ability to recreate that buy-online, return-to-store model without having to rely so heavily on their own store footprints.
Do you have any additional advice to share?
Stephanie: Saving money is going to be so important as the retail world struggles to get back on its feet post-pandemic. I highly recommend taking advantage of our free trial so you can instantly lower shipping costs and retain more sales, at no cost to you.
Do you want to read more about our Coronavirus coverage? Start with the following articles:
Want to see more statistics from our survey, do you want to read more about our coronavirus coverage? Check out the following:
- The press release from our COVID-19 delivery preferences survey goes over more key findings on shopper wants and needs during this unprecedented time.
- Our Parcel Network Pulse Dashboard pulls together our data of over 3 billion shipping events to help retailers identify where eCommerce fulfillment disruptions are happening.
- As COVID-19 impacts ripple across the supply chain, what should retailers do to keep customers happy? Stay up to date with trends and best practices in our blog, Managing Coronavirus: How Can Retailers Mitigate Supply Chain Shock?
- With so much uncertainty in the next few months, what should retailers focus on in 2020? Forecasting Supply Chain Resilience in 2020 goes over trends and insights we’re hearing from experts and top retailers.