Businesses are often overconfident in their ability to manage customer returns, new research from 16,000 respondents suggests, with many well-meaning firms falling well short of customer expectations around returns, deliveries and service.
Just a day after it was revealed that both Target and Big W had faced ACCC intervention over their customer returns policies, technology company Oracle unveiled the results of its global research it had conducted to coincide with its Retail Industry Forum in Spain.
According to its Setting the Bar study of 15,800 consumers and 210 retailers globally, including in Australia, only 57 per cent of people rated returning products as being “very easy”. But the same number said that the returns process could at least be made easier or was actually a “complete hassle” to navigate.
In-store, consumers rate convenience above everything else — including having the product they want in stock and in their size — with 56 per cent of consumers listing this as their top priority. Yet only a third (34 per cent) of retailers gave this the same level of importance for their own customers.
When shopping, consumers also rank the ability to experiment and try new products (36 per cent) and access expert advice (22 per cent) as important, yet retailers put far less emphasis on these points (18 per cent and 6 per cent, respectively).
For e-commerce and other purchases, consumers rank fast and cheap delivery as their top priority, and are open to experimenting with various methods of having goods shipped, such as drones, messengers or driverless cars.
But the number one lesson for businesses is not to fail on stipulated delivery time frames. “It better get there when expected: the price for late deliveries according to 13 per cent of consumers is they would never order from that retailer again,” Oracle noted.
Businesses that offer a choice of delivery options at the point of purchase are looked on more favourably than those who don’t, the research suggested, indicating that convenience extends beyond just the actual shopping experience to the physical receipt of goods.
Again, this was an area with wide differences between consumer wants and business offerings: 86 per cent of consumers agreed that retailers should offer the ability to choose the most convenient delivery option, but close to half (47 per cent) said their preferred delivery option is either “sometimes, rarely or never” made available to them.
Ever-increasing demands on retailers
Mike Webster, senior vice-president and general manager at Oracle Retail, suggested that retailers are effectively caught in an innovation loop, with new offerings setting a new baseline for customer expectations.
“Consumer expectations are perpetually in flux, with each positive experience setting a new bar for success in retail,” he said.
“No matter if they’re enjoying the convenience of ride-sharing, browsing through a seamless in-app experience or walking into a brick-and-mortar storefront, customers expect the same calibre of service in all interactions, upping the stakes for retailers as they compete with rival brands and new business models.”
As many retailers and businesses already know, consumers no longer differentiate between online and in-store shopping — the research found that the majority expect the same level of convenience regardless of where they view and pay for goods and services.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.