Returns are a challenge area for many ecommerce brands, partially since it can be tough to prioritize creating an easy and free return process for customers when so much focus already goes into having them make purchases in the first place. For this reason, some brands that do a great job in showcasing products and ensuring that customers find what they want and receive it quickly still lag behind in this area. However, there are some stats out there that are challenging the idea that return optimization can be safely tabled during the pursuit of other targets. In fact, according to an infographic released by Trueship.com, the average rate of returns from ecommerce purchases is one in three, while 79% of shoppers want a free return shipping offer when they make a purchase.

Is it worth holding out on free return shipping if it creates loyalty? 

An interesting question in ecommerce in general is how to think about the real value of new versus return customers, and whether it is ultimately better to focus on acquisition versus retention. Many studies have pointed to the benefits of increasing customer retention efforts in terms of overall profit generation. In an article by Retention Science, several studies were pointed to, among them a Bain & Company report that stated a 5% increase in customer retention efforts could lead to a 25-95% increase in company profitability. These stats are pretty compelling, and may be grounds for companies that have been holding out on free return shipping to reconsider their stances.

If free shipping is going to be a major cost center, consider ways to offset that cost. 

The logistic costs of free shipping can vary greatly depending on the volume and physical size of products being shipped. In order to offset these costs, some strategic thinking may be required. One of the keys to turning a return scenario into a positive is treating it as an opportunity to surprise and delight your customers. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of assuming that a customer who returns something simply doesn’t like your products and is effectively ending the relationship. In reality, offering free returns has been shown to be a powerful driver of loyalty and repeat purchases. Pivoting a return into an exchange or even a larger purchase made using store credit can turn the negative scenario of a return into an up-sell opportunity.