Did you see the news? Recent research by Kantor TNS in 22 countries found that the leaders in the field of returns within Europe are the Netherlands, the UK, Belgium and Switzerland. Do you already sell internationally? It’s no longer an opportunity, but a must! And international returns are an essential part to selling globally. 

Domestic e-commerce returns are often already a nightmare for most online stores, but what do you do when you receive international returns? The right of return, or right of cancellation, applies throughout Europe. But don’t let this stop you from putting your online store on the international map. There are plenty of opportunities! And there are 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.

Read on to find out about: 

Biggest sore point: online store returns

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. And that is not only annoying for the customer, but also for you as an online retailer. Returns cause extra costs and extra work, and sometimes returned products 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. We’ll list the main reasons for you:

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

How to reduce the number of online store returns

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:

  • Adding customer reviews to your product pages
  • Including clear product photos (and product videos) in your online store
  • Packaging orders well so customers are less likely to receive damaged products
  • Optimising your shipping process with the right international carriers so orders arrive on time

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

international returnsWhat’s the deal with international returns?

Returns are a big challenge for online stores – especially international returns. Not only do different rules apply in other countries, but also different preferences. As we already noted, a 14-day cooling-off period after the purchase date applies throughout the EU.

As an online store, 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. 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 packagesThe actual return process is the most important part of your return policy. If this is difficult internally, you can never have an easy return policy and meet customer requirements. There are five ways to handle international returns. We’ll list them 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.

You can make this return method even more customer friendly. 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.

Note: for luxury products, free returns are almost a standard part of customer expectations. If you sell high value products such as jewellery, 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.

3. Cleverly offset return costs for your customer

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. 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 specialises 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. For example, via the Sendcloud return portal, your customer can easily return the product via your personal URL and select a delivery point to hand in the package.

Next, a return label is created automatically, informing both you and your customer of the status of the package. This reduces the risk of errors in the return process, reduces the likelihood of questions from customers and allows you to quickly add the product back to your inventory. You can then choose to charge the return costs to your customer or offer free returns.

The return portal is available for all countries within Europe with DHL, DPD and UPS. Do you have your own contract with these carriers? Then you can also combine them with this return environment.

The ultimate return policy for international returns

return policyHowever you handle international returns to your online store, it’s important to communicate this well. An easy return policy leads to a substantial conversion increase. Yes, you may receive more returns, but research has shown that a simple return policy leads to a higher order value and repeat customers who yield more. So don’t think about your results in the short term, but in the long term.

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?

We wish you the best of luck with your online store. If you process your returns in another (smart) way, we would be very curious to read your response under this article!

Find out how our return portal works now, and start tackling your international returns effectively.

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