Like having a limb ripped off

We asked consumers how they felt about various returns initiation processes. The responses were mostly metaphorical.

As our recent findings on inconvenient returns uncovered, more than 3 in 4 consumers think returns are painful. But being the data sadists we tend to be…we wanted to know how painful.

So, to put pain into context, we had consumers rate various returns initiation processes — many traditionally referred to as “Return Material Authorizations” or RMAs — on a metaphorical scale from “mosquito bite" (1) to “lion eating your leg” (5). Because we’re scientific like that. Here’s how emphatically consumers said ouch to three processes retailers ask us about often:

  • Unsurprisingly, having the return label included in the box with the order is the least painful option — something consumers have told us many times before, but few retailers (aside from curated subscription box companies) are willing to entertain due to resulting elevated return rates.
  • Also unsurprising, paying for return shipping was the most painful process for consumers among the options we surveyed. This was after we caveated that “most annoying” was akin to “a lion eating your leg.” That’s right, you heard it here first: for nearly 40% of consumers, paying for return shipping is literally like having a limb ripped off.
  • Returns-cost-averse merchants should be aware, though, that consumers are more amenable to having return shipping deducted from their refunds than being charged for shipping directly. Less than one-third (31%) are “extremely annoyed” by this practice.
  • Retailers hesitant to introduce what have traditionally been known as Return Material Authorization (RMA) processes — where the consumer fills out an online form that determines return eligibility or refund amount prior to receiving a shipping label or QR code — take note: consumers don’t find this process all that annoying. Both standard label and printer-less RMA options were among the second least annoying of the returns initiation options we surveyed.
  • When looking at responses based on age groups, we found some surprising insights:
    • Millennials are more annoyed by every returns process — except getting charged for returns, where their sentiments trail the average
    • Interestingly, Gen Z consumers are the least annoyed by having to pay for return shipping, especially if the cost is deducted from their refund
    • While our previous surveys found that most younger consumers either don’t own or don’t use a home printer to print return shipping labels, there wasn’t a significant difference between age groups in the perceived friction of having to print a label or using a QR code when dropping off a package
    • When it comes to income and gender, returns activities are ‘equal opportunity annoying’ — that is, there aren’t significant differences in responses between those demographic groups among the returns options present. Let’s just say everyone is cranky.
  • Finally, we asked consumers about tradeoffs in the returns initiation/RMA process. What additional hoops would they be willing to jump through — what additional caveats would they accept — if it meant they could get their refund faster?
  • This ended up being an exercise in perceived cost or effort. How much do consumers think each of these options will cost them in money or time? This opens a window into the psychology of consumers. For example:
    • Calling customer service was not much more “costly” than filling out a form on a website. Admittedly, this response was heavily skewed by responses from Baby Boomer respondents.
    • Going to a returns counter (inside a mall or retail location) was almost the same “cost” as receiving a store credit — meaning consumers either don’t value their time (or transportation cost) that much, or the stickiness of repeat purchase isn’t that high.
  • It shouldn’t come as a surprise, though, that simple online RMAs again received the highest endorsement, with consumers telling us that filling out an online form was the process they’d most likely be willing to follow for a faster refund. 

Clients using our own customizable RMA portal — part of our Consumer Connect app — know that setting up an RMA process is easy, and can pay dividends in lowering returns costs, fraud and improve merchandising insights.

BOXpoll™ by Pitney Bowes, a weekly consumer survey on current events, culture,and ecommerce logistics. Conducted by Pitney Bowes with Morning Consult //2094 US consumers surveyed April 2021.© Copyright Pitney Bowes Inc.

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