Fri May 12 2017
If you're of a certain age, you'll be able to cast your mind back to the end of the last millennium (steady on, I only mean the late ‘90s) - to a time when shopping was an arduous, energy-sapping process. While technology had driven improvements in some areas - such as manufacturing - customer services had remained fundamentally unchanged for decades. Apps? Contactless payments? No chance. This was the era of slogging it out on the high street, cash in hand, business hours only.
If you had to order something (in person, over the phone, or by snail-mail), it could take weeks to be delivered. Similarly, returning an item you'd bought by mistake could be an expensive hassle as you had to shell out to get your misbegotten purchase back to the store. And if the person in Delivery and Receipts decided you couldn't return the thing in the first place, you were out of luck. (I write from bitter experience. But I forgive you, nice customer service representative. It was my fault for buying the lime-green pullover.)
How times have changed.
Today, deliveries can arrive in minutes or hours, sometimes days but almost certainly not weeks unless something goes horribly wrong. And returns tend to be similarly swift. In this new era, returning a purchase is not a regrettable, tedious error but, for many, an essential part of the buying process. Around six in ten consumers (58%) say a retailer's returns policy impacts their decision to make a purchase online, and almost half of these (47%) would not order an item if they had to fund the cost of sending it back from their own pocket1.
Three in ten shoppers (30%) deliberately over-purchase and subsequently return unwanted items, with one in five (19%) admitting to ordering multiple versions of the same item to make up their mind at home1.
This can put pressure on retailers as they struggle to deal with so-called ‘serial returners’ – the three in ten shoppers who deliberately over-purchase then return unwanted items, and the one in five who orders multiple versions of the same item to try on at home1 - and the rising volume of returned purchases. But they stand to lose consumers altogether if they don’t offer fast, free or low-cost returns.
Fortunately, there is light at the end of the tunnel. There are “many ways retailers can streamline the returns process… [T]he key for today’s businesses is to determine which innovations work best for them – while ensuring they don’t lose out to their more savvy competition”.
Managing Director, Customer Solutions at Barclaycard Payment Solutions
Delivery and return times are not the only things dwindling. As technology makes it easier to book and pay for goods and services, customers are enjoying shorter waiting times or avoiding them altogether when it comes to paying bills, checking into flights, or making restaurant reservations.
Speedy and efficient service has correspondingly risen in importance in the eyes of consumers. Take eating out. Some 37% of diners consider quick service a priority in restaurants2, above menu choice (33%) and value (21%). Or take clothes shopping. Three in 10 (30% of people)3 would be more likely to shop in-store if retailers could provide digital changing rooms where they ‘try on’ items virtually, bypassing the wait for the fitting room or the hassle of taking off multiple layers only to find something looked a lot better on the hanger.
Payments is another area where change is accelerating. With consumers expecting ever-greater convenience and ease of use, it’s no surprise that some major retailers are trialling checkout-free stores. Like the look of something? In the new generation of shops, you might just be able to make it yours without queuing or paying at a checkout.
Consumer expectations will continue to evolve, shaped by new technology such as virtual and augmented reality. And it is also clear that retailers who find solutions to improve the service and experience they provide, both online and on the high street, will likely leave their competitors standing. As a time-poor, tech-savvy consumer, this is exciting. As a retailer, the question is – are you ready for the omnichannel challenge?