Return Strategy

How long do customers take to return?

How long do customers take before initiating a return? We have seen some changes over the last 2 years.

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Alex McEachern

May 20, 2021

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Two years ago, we crunched some numbers to figure out how long people actually take to make a return. This data was invaluable to the brands we work with because it helped them better understand the behavior of their customers and allowed them to make data-informed decisions about their return policy. This year, we decided to re-run our analysis to see if anything has changed. Here’s what we found.

What our analysis tells us about how long customers take to make a return

Two years ago, we discovered that 80% of the returns we process happened in the first 14 days. Our most recent analysis found that 80% of the returns we process occurred in the first 21 days.

In other words, customers are taking longer to return their orders. There could be a few reasons for this change. For instance, more people are shopping online because of COVID-19, so they may want to make sure they’re getting the right products in their hands. Also, an increasing number of brands are offering generous return windows in the competitive ecommerce environment, allowing customers to feel more comfortable taking their time with return decisions.

If you want to take a look at the full results of our analysis, check out the chart below:

What does this mean for your brand?

You may be wondering how this change affects your brand and the way you approach returns. Here are three conclusions we can draw from these findings:

14-day return windows no longer work

Many brands still offer 14-day return windows. Our most recent analysis is proof that this isn’t nearly enough time for customers to make a return decision. You might be thinking: who cares? I don’t want my customers to make returns anyway. Well, that’s where you’re wrong. 

Almost 90% of customers have kept a product they actually wanted to return. The shorter you make your return window, the more likely your customers will do the same. This is bad for business. Suppose a customer doesn’t love the product they bought from you. In that case, they’re unlikely to make a repeat purchase or tell their friends about your brand, which leads to lower AOV and fewer opportunities for organic customer acquisition. 

We also found from brands we work with that returns and LTV are correlated. In fact, one Loop customer saw an increase of 131% in LTV from customers who have interacted with the returns process and those who haven’t. There was an additional increase of 9% when the customer had at least one exchange event.

More time = happier customers

The data also tells us that, since most customers will be making a return in 21 days anyway, you might as well offer a more generous window like three months or a year. Why would you do this? 

First, there’s little to no risk to your brand. A longer return window also leads to happier customers and makes it more likely that they’ll make a purchase in the first place. On the flip side, 33.8% of consumers would think twice before shopping with a brand that has too short of a return window.

If you’re concerned that a year-long return window will increase your overall return rates, don’t be. The University of Texas found that a longer return window makes returns less likely. There’s a reason why top ecommerce brands like Brooklinen offer 365-day return windows.

A tiered approach is still an effective strategy

With our analysis from two years ago, we encouraged brands to take a tiered approach to return windows, where they offer a longer return window for exchanges and store credit and a shorter window for refunds. Good news: this recommendation is more relevant than ever before! 

Here’s the reasoning behind this recommendation: exchanges indicate that the customer wants to continue their relationship with your brand, while refunds signal the end of the customer relationship. A tiered approach to return windows allows you to strengthen the customer relationship by incentivizing exchanges over refunds.

A more generous window also shows your customers that you value their loyalty and want them to have as much time as they need to get the right product in their hands. With a return platform like Loop, you’ll have the flexibility to set your return window for refunds, exchanges, and store credit independently.

What do you think about our latest analysis on return times? Hopefully, the results convinced you of the value of offering customers more time to make return decisions and even taking a more strategic, tiered approach to return windows. If you want to learn how Loop can take your returns experience to the next level, get in touch with our team.

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