Research on returns and how retailers can benefit

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Online Retailer Study Research on returns and how retailers can benefit

Published on 25.10.2022 by Philippe Mettler, Head of Digital Commerce, Swiss Post Ltd 

Returns is a growth area in academic research. Prof. Dr. Thomas Wozniak is head of the quantitative Online Retailer Survey and explains the appeal from a research perspective, the study’s contribution and its potential for online retailers.

What’s so fascinating about returns from a research perspective?

Returns in online retail are a wide-ranging, relevant and growing area of research. Its increasing significance is explained by the strong growth in online retail over recent years. This has also seen the volume of returns rise. First of all, returns are a cost factor for companies. This raises questions about the efficiency of returns management and the effectiveness of avoidance measures. Digitization as well as data and technologies are continually presenting new opportunities in this area. Returns are also part of the customer journey and so too a customer issue. Factors such as the customer experience and consumer psychology play a key role here. This presents a whole host of fascinating research questions.

What contribution does this study make to research on returns?

Firstly, this study is a comprehensive analysis of returns management in Swiss online retail. Until now, only fragmented findings – if any at all – were available, especially on the supplier side. To put it bluntly, you could even call it a blind spot. This study now shines some light on that blind spot. Considering the extensive nature of our study, it provides a new reference standard on returns in Swiss online retail. More specifically, we’ve obtained key insights into the areas of returns data, avoidance measures, the goals of returns management, costs and measuring success, which can all be used to make improvements.

Where do you see the greatest potential based on the study results?

One key aspect is definitely closing the circle from identification of reasons for returns, the definition and implementation of avoidance measures and the consistent monitoring of the effectiveness and finally the optimization of measures as part of a continuous improvement process. Retailers and product categories with high returns rates stand to benefit most. It also appears that the returns process – particularly at the interface with customers – is often not digitized and automated to a sufficient extent. This concerns the registration of returns, but also communication about the current status in the returns process as a whole. A high degree of digitization can provide efficiency and cost benefits, have a positive impact on the customer experience and provide benefits for returns data.

So finally, let’s take a look into our crystal ball – what does the future hold for returns?

The returns rates will fall. Goods categories with high returns rates have the greatest potential. Whether the overall returns volume will also fall depends on the future development of online retail. We’ve seen strong growth here over the past ten years. There’s no sign of a trend reversal. Efforts to slow down climate change will also be stepped up in all parts of the economy and society. This also concerns online retail, including returns. This means there will be greater emphasis than before on identifying the parts of the value chain in which online retail’s ecological footprint can be further reduced. Here I see a need and potential for innovation. But there’ll still be returns as they’re part of the model of distance and online retail.


The results of the Online Retailer Study 2022 can be downloaded here.

Prof. Dr. Thomas Wozniak

Prof. Dr. Wozniak is research coordinator and lecturer at the Institute of Communication and Marketing IKM at Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts – School of Business.

Philippe Mettler

Philippe Mettler, Head of Digital Commerce at Swiss Post, has many years’ experience in consulting and project implementation, particularly in the fields of e-commerce, web and PIM. He has wide-ranging practical knowledge with customers in various sectors. Using this knowledge, he helps our customers further develop their digital competence and successfully operate in digital commerce.

Portrait Philippe Mettler

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