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E-commerce Delivery Compass shows that 84% of European online shoppers regularly return a product and the leaders in the field of returns within Europe are Germany and the Netherlands! 

In Germany, 89% of online shoppers return their products even though they think returns are such a big hassle and even more expensive than keeping their items. Very likely to German consumers, 87% of Dutchies return their items if they’re not satisfied. 

Domestic e-commerce returns are often already a nightmare for most online stores, but what do you do when you receive international returns? 

In today’s e-commerce landscape, international returns are an essential part of selling globally. So more than being an opportunity, it’s a must-have at the moment. 

And we know that for a lot of e-retailers, it’s not something easy to deploy but you shouldn’t let this stop you from putting your online store on the international map.

Indeed, there are plenty of opportunities and several ways for an online store to process international returns trouble-free. 

In this article, we will help by giving you five tips to ensure your returns go smoothly, even when they cross national borders.

Biggest sore point: online store returns

Did you know that online retailers are facing a return rate of over 20%, almost two times more than brick and mortar stores?

Yes! The big disadvantage of having an online store instead of a physical store is the number of returns.

The exact return percentage depends on the products you sell, but it is almost always higher than the percentage at physical stores.

This is because customers cannot use their senses (such as touching a product) when they shop online. Another possible reason is that online shoppers are constantly searching and comparing the products online regarding their prices and shipping costs.

So, it’s definitely hard to keep them satisfied.

Finally, the biggest downside of returns is that they cause extra costs and work, and sometimes they can no longer be resold.

Why are products returned?

A lower return percentage means more profit and more satisfied customers. That’s why it’s important to find out why products are being returned. Here are some of the common reasons:

  • The customer received the wrong product or the wrong size
  • The product does not match the product description
  • The order arrived damaged to the customer

For sure, the reasons can vary based on the products you’re selling, the industry you’re in and a lot of other factors. 

But how are you going to figure out such unique information on your business to prevent future returns? 

Don’t worry we’re here to help you get a clear overview of your returns statistics. Sendcloud platform provides you actionable insights on your return data with the ​​Analytics dashboard. 

Returns analytics dashboard of Sendcloud.

You can easily spot the main reasons why people return and your most returned product with certain numbers on shipments per carrier and country. This way you can easily understand your consumer’s pain points, analyze your online store and optimize further to prevent returns in the future. 

How to reduce the number of online store returns and increase conversions

You can take steps to prevent returns to the fullest extent. It mainly comes down to making fewer mistakes and helping your customers as much as possible. You can do that by:

  • Including clear product photos and product videos in your online store
  • Adding customer reviews to your product pages
  • Packaging orders well so customers are less likely to receive damaged products 
  • Optimizing your shipping process with the right international carriers so orders arrive on time
  • Offering longer returns periods
  • Providing multiple returns options and flexibility
  • Redesigning your returns policy 
  • Providing fast return process with ready-to-use shipping labels
  • Offering flexible refund options
  • Providing low return shipment costs or free returns if possible

Want more tips to reduce returns? Then read our detailed article about it.

What’s the deal with international returns?

As we mentioned before, international returns are challenging for online stores. And the reason for this is that not only do different rules apply in other countries, but also different preferences.

As you know, a 14-day return period after the purchase date applies throughout the EU. So you have to accept packages that come back within this period (except for custom-made and perishable goods).

However, this right of cancellation is not mandatory outside the EU. In Australia, for example, there is no cooling-off period at all. That’s why it’s important that you become (and remain!) aware of the return rules for each country and the preferences/requirements of international customers.

Regarding international shipping, UPS offers a handy online tool for checking the return rules in other countries and responding to them in the best possible way.

Even if it is not the standard to offer returns in a certain country, you may want to make returns possible. The largest players in the market always make it possible to return products easily. Now you might think: they have the money to do that too. Yet it is also a question of daring to take a risk.

You can use returns as a unique selling proposition and thus stay a big step ahead of your competition. Of course, you have to decide whether it is feasible for you to do so. We hope that this article will at least give you the tools to easily handle international returns to your online store and therefore offer a simple return policy. Regardless of which country you sell in!

5 tips for handling international returns

return packages

The actual return process is the most important part of your return policy and the fact is 52% of European consumers always check the return policy before the checkout.

If this is difficult internally, you can never have an easy return policy and meet customer requirements. In order to handle international returns properly, we listed 5 practical ways for you:

1. Let your customer choose how to return the item

The first and easiest option for you is to leave the return method to your customer. The only thing that’s fixed is the address your customer has to send to (i.e. your address). 

Your customer chooses which carrier to ship with and which delivery point to deliver the parcel to. However, this is the least customer-friendly solution, so it can cost you conversion in your international online store. 

The advantage is that as soon as you receive the product back, you can assess it yourself and add it back to your stock more quickly.

As an online retailer, you are not required to reimburse return costs. 

However, you will have to reimburse the shipping costs of the outward journey if the customer returns their entire order (within the EU). Beyond that, you can choose whether to have your customer pay for the cost of the return. And you can make this return method even more customer-friendly. 

But how? 

Extend the return period. Your customer will then become attached to the product or be less concerned with it. That also reduces the chance of a return.

💡 Good to know:

Fashion & Accessories industry has the highest return rate (58%). compared to other product categories like Books & Games. So it’s not surprising that for luxury products, free returns are almost a standard part of customer expectations. If you sell high-value products such as jewelry, one of the tips below is a better choice.

2. Make arrangements with an international carrier

If you have a large shipping volume that also includes returns, you can make a substantial volume deal with an international carrier.

A good example of this is fashion chain Zalando, which has a partnership with DHL for both shipments and returns. By making custom arrangements with the carrier, you can often not only discuss lower rates but also get more service from the carrier, such as pick-ups of your shipments and returns.

Also with Sendcloud you can offer multiple shipping methods with the best local and international carrier integrations. This way you can provide a more efficient and budget-friendly return process. 

3. Cleverly offset return costs for your customer

Our study shows that 74% of European consumers wouldn’t reorder from an online store if they had to pay for the return themselves. And 77% agree that free returns are convincing to order from an online store more frequently. 

But if you don’t want to bear the return costs yourself but still want to offer some form of service, you have another alternative. You can add the return label to the order and have the return costs deducted from the refund of the order. Because you are not required to reimburse return costs, this method is allowed.

This is nice for the customer because they do not have to pay immediately when returning the parcel. That mitigates the pain of returning and, especially, the costs of that return. 

What’s more, it makes returns a little easier. 37% of European consumers state they would reorder from an online store if they’ve been offered a fast and easy return process. 

So that also works to your advantage: your customer comes back to you more quickly because of your effortless return policy.

4. Outsource international returns to a local party

Have you ever thought of handling returns through a local party? By doing so, you allow customers to return their products to the party you are working with in the country in which you are selling. 

This party specializes in handling consignment/returns and can therefore ensure that the process, including the administration, runs as efficiently as possible.

When there are many parcels, the party can return them to your warehouse in a large cost-efficient batch. Working this way also allows you to reimburse your customers sooner because the local party receives and assesses the products more quickly.

This option is relatively expensive because you are entering into an external collaboration. However, if you receive a lot of returns (like in fashion), it can help you be as cost-efficient as possible. 

Make clear agreements and ensure a good link between your online store, inventory and the external party. When you receive a return notification for a product, you can refund your customer immediately or ship a new product, even before you receive the order back at your warehouse.

5. Handle returns in an effortless way for both you and your customer

Would you rather keep the return process for your online store in your own hands? 

Then use a smart solution to handle returns more efficiently. With the Sendcloud return portal, you can provide an easy and smooth return process to your customers. 

You can provide alternative refund options and you can let your customers decide how to return their items with your flexible return methods. 

For example, 90% of European consumers have a specific preference on how to return their items.

45% of them want to take the package to a drop-off point like a post office or a parcel shop while some want their items to be picked up from their home or office. And that doesn’t matter at all because you can meet their expectations with Sendcloud. 

Flexible return methods with Sendcloud.

Next to that, return labels can be created automatically, informing both you and your customer of the status of the package. Well, believe it or not, communication is the key factor in dealing with returns. 

Also, it reduces the risk of manual errors in the return process, reduces the likelihood of questions from customers and allows you to quickly add the product back to your inventory. 

Another advantage for international e-retailers is that Sendcloud provides multi-language track and trace email capabilities as well. 

Multilingual track and tracing.

You can then choose to charge the return costs to your customer or offer free returns to boost customer retention. 

💡 Insider tip: If you think you’re not capable of offering full free return shipping yet, you might want to consider providing it only to your loyal customers who are repeatedly ordering from your online store.

The ultimate return policy for international returns

For European consumers getting informed about the return policy is a must-have to keep purchasing from you. If there’s any unclarity in your communication that can cause a lot of confusion and consumers can switch to competitors at any minute.

In this case, no matter how you handle international returns to your online store, it’s important to communicate that well. And an easy return policy leads to a substantial conversion increase.

Don’t forget that a simple and customer-friendly return policy leads to a higher order value and repeat customers who yield more.

Insider tip:

Test your return policy! For example, add return labels to your orders one month and not the next month. Then assess the results: more returns or more conversion and profit? That’s a nice one to know!

International returns are easier than you think. Start tackling now!

Sendcloud can help you overcome the challenges of returns through the return portal. Here’s a quick snapshot of what you can do:

  • Get instant access to 130+ global and local carriers through one integration.
  • Use only one API for all your return needs.
  • Personalize your return & refund options based on your business strategy in different countries
  • Filter unauthorized returns according to your return policy easily in advance
  • Offer prepaid return shipping for your customers and enable them to easily print out the label themselves
  • Set up automated, multi-language and branded tracking emails for your customers.
  • Use Analytics to have a real understanding of what’s going on with your returns. This will help you optimize your operations and reduce your returns rates.

Sounds too good to be true? Give it a try to see yourself with the Sendcloud return portal and let us know about your thoughts in the comments below.

Buse Tarakcioglu

Buse is the Global Content Marketing Specialist at Sendcloud. She's highly passionate about content marketing and e-commerce. She's eager to provide valuable content regarding e-commerce logistics and help your online business.

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