Get ready to win the post-BFCM returns game
BFCM: A week of sales so great it now has its own acronym. You know, Black Friday to Cyber Monday. But how many sellers had their excitement dashed when they saw orders for 5 of the same item in different sizes? And how many others will find their items being returned by customers who have shopper’s regret? The prospect of dealing with those returns may cast a shadow on your good cheer, but it doesn’t have to.
Walmart has long recognized that making returns easy is a key feature of a world-class customer experience. Returns present an opportunity to delight customers when they least expect it, creating loyalty and turning something unpleasant into a competitive advantage. The October 2018 release of the Marketplace Enhanced Returns program extended Walmart’s benchmark experience to all purchases on Walmart.com. The value of this consistent experience for customers is clear, but what does it mean for you?
Well, there’s good news: the program also offers new tools and other benefits that improve the seller experience. By implementing a few best practices and making use of Seller Center’s updated features, you can keep your Walmart Marketplace returns from robbing you of your cyber joy.
Why your online return policy matters
Because buying a product online almost always involves some risk for shoppers, it’s no wonder that polled consumers say return policies impact their buying habits.
In a recent Narvar survey summarized by Marketing Land, 95% of the shoppers polled reported that having a great return experience would influence them to buy from a retailer again. And 49% said they check return policies before making their online purchases.
Walmart’s online customers shop confidently, knowing they can return our items easily online or in stores. Now that shoppers can enjoy the same experience with Marketplace sellers, you benefit from their loyalty and return visits. But setting your policies too strictly can erode customer trust.
Restocking fees and other restrictions may seem to help recoup some of your return costs, but these policies are also the ones most likely to make shoppers decide against purchasing from you. Remember those Narvar shoppers who check return policies? A whopping 83% of the survey respondents said finding a retailer’s policy includes restocking fees would keep them from making a purchase, and return shipping fees are another deal-breaker for 74% of those polled. That’s why Walmart decided to discontinue these fees beginning in August 2019 for purchases from Marketplace sellers, making the customer experience consistent regardless of who’s shipping the item.
So if returns are expensive, but charging for them is an unsupported deal-breaker, what’s a seller to do? Let’s look at a few best practices that can help avoid customer returns in the first place.
Best practices for minimizing returns
#1 Provide more details than you think anyone could possibly need
Providing sufficiently clear and accurate descriptions for items seems like an obvious requirement, but if you’ve ever received an online order that was surprisingly different than what you expected, you know that not everyone shares the same definition of “sufficient.”
You may think that the dimensions of your item are well understood or don’t really matter, but the more accurate your buyer’s mental picture, the better.
If you’re serious about helping customers make buying decisions they won’t regret, provide an abundance of detailed information for your products. You may think that the dimensions of your item are well understood or don’t really matter, but the more accurate your buyer’s mental picture, the better. Your product may be joining a collection of similar items, for example, where a difference in size would be noticeable and cause for rejection. Instead of assuming you know which factors are important, provide everything you can.
#2 Remember, a picture (in context) is worth… more!
Item imagery is another place you can invest up front to limit returns later. Instead of supplying only one or two basic images, help shoppers really get to know your product so they don’t resort to “bracketing” – the trend where customers buy multiple versions with the plan to return the ones they don’t want.
Can you add close-up photos that show texture? Are accessories shown on models or with outlines of people so their scale is easy to see? Backpacks and purses are common items that can vary significantly in size and benefit from lifestyle imagery, but how about your small kitchen appliances? How many shoppers can imagine the difference in scale between a .35 cubic feet toaster oven and one that’s .5 cubic feet? Is it bigger than a bread box? Then go ahead and show it next to one.
Adding images with ruler-style measurements or capacity samples may also help prevent “not as described” returns. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and identify the variety of criteria they may use to make purchase decisions. If you can provide photos that check off each one, you’ll both see the benefits.
#3 Leverage customer reviews
Even when you provide thorough item descriptions and add extra attributes and images, shoppers may need additional help deciding if your product is right for them. That’s where customer feedback can help.
Positive reviews are obviously good for your sales, but even feedback that includes constructive criticism can be valuable when you’re trying to limit your returns. Research at Boston University validated the assumption that products with more reviews are less likely to be returned. The insights provided by real customers help shoppers make better decisions, leading to fewer returns for you.
If you’re a seller on Walmart Marketplace, you may be wondering what you can do to increase customer feedback for the items you sell there. Well, you’re in luck. Walmart and Bazaarvoice have partnered to offer our sellers a program to collect and distribute authentic customer reviews onto Walmart.com. This program is available to all Walmart Marketplace sellers and you can sign up or learn more by completing the form at www.bazaarvoice.com/Walmart.
#4 Offer a longer return period
The tips offered so far may seem a bit obvious, but here’s one that’s somewhat counterintuitive: offering your customers a longer return period can actually reduce the number of items returned. Walmart requires a minimum return window of 30 days for most items and 15 days for select categories, but if you want to limit returns, you may want to offer an even more generous window.
Relaxing the return window may make the keep-or-return decision less urgent, and thus less top-of-mind for buyers.
The Washington Post reported the surprising finding from a meta-analysis of 21 research papers conducted by researchers at University of Texas-Dallas. The researchers offered a few possible explanations for the puzzling inverse relationship of time limits and returns. They speculated that giving customers more time may help them become more attached to an item—a result called the “endowment effect.” In other words, they learn to love it. Similarly, relaxing the return window may make the keep-or-return decision less urgent, and thus less top-of-mind for buyers. In the end, they may forget to make the decision at all or conclude it’s not so bad they can’t live with it. The researchers didn’t offer an ideal time limit, so you may want to test a few options and see what works best for you and your products.
Using Seller Center for insights and management
#5 Check for trends
The new Returns dashboard in Seller Center provides more than refund management. The Download functionality gives you a spreadsheet where you can review all returns initiated in the last 30 days (more options are in development). Use it to see if certain SKUs are being returned more than others and to identify the most common return reasons customers choose. Armed with this knowledge, you can do further analysis to check comparable SKU pricing in your item report, item listing accuracy, and the quality of items you’re shipping.
#6 Issue adjustments
A less than perfect shipment doesn’t have to turn into a return. If a customer contacts you about a missing part or other minor defect, before a return is initiated in the system, you may have a chance to inspire loyalty and keep them satisfied by offering a partial refund using the renamed Adjustments feature. After you pull up the order by entering a Purchase Order Number (PO #) or Order Number, you’ll see the Issue Adjustment link for each line item. (If the link is disabled, you must use the Returns Dashboard to process the pending return or ask the customer to cancel it before making an adjustment.) Click the link to access the form where you can select Enter a custom amount to give the customer a partial refund without requiring a return. Review the Seller Help guide for details if the link is missing or disabled.
#7 Verify returned goods are acceptable
(Instructions here have been updated to reflect changes scheduled for release on July 31, 2019.)
The Marketplace Enhanced Returns program includes tools that protect sellers from erroneous or fraudulent returns. If you receive a return from a customer that is different than what you shipped them, you may dispute the return charges by using the button Report issue for this return in Seller Center or by opening a Partner Support case in Seller Help. You’ll need to provide an explanation of the situation and any evidence, such as photos, when you open the case. It also needs to be filed within 45 days of the date the customer refund is processed by Walmart as explained here, so don’t delay.
Winning the returns game
Walmart Marketplace is a powerful platform for reaching shoppers, but much of the customer experience is in your hands. To make sure every aspect of that experience is stellar, let’s recap your playbook for returns:
- Review your return policy. Think about how you can delight customers and drive loyalty.
- Help shoppers make good buying choices. Offer thorough, quality item content and leverage feedback syndication so your customers are less likely to return your products.
- Take the pressure off customers by offering a longer return period. Give them time to fall in love with their purchases, and they’ll be more likely to keep them.
- Use Seller Center reports to review your Marketplace returns. Check for trends, identify issues and make changes to improve pricing, quality and other drivers.
- Offer adjustments for minor issues. Improve customer satisfaction and avoid returns by giving adjustments. In this win-win scenario, your customers avoid the hassle of returns, you reduce your costs, and you’ll likely make a loyal fan in the process.
- Finally, inspect your returns and use the dispute system to report fraudulent claims.