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How a small team at Bestseller slashed its returns rate

Lauretta Roberts
15 October 2020

Bestseller, the Scandinavian clothing group whose brands also include Jack & Jones and Vero Moda, has slashed its online returns rate thanks to a project run by a small team at its  e-commerce office in Amsterdam.

The group tasked 10 team members to stem the growing tide of returns, which had been increasing for the past five years. Through the Return Revolution project, 130 different initiatives were identified to tackle the problem with 100 of them worked on, outside of the team's normal duties, in the past year, which has resulted in a "significantly lower" returns rate.

“Returns have a big impact on our profitability and environmental footprint, so we were concerned about the upward trend. We started with a question that we hadn’t asked before: ‘how do we reduce the business and environmental cost of returns?’ We knew that if we were to be truly successful in responding to this question, we needed to look at returns from all angles,” explains Jordan Burke, who oversaw Return Revolution.

“We set out to ignite and inspire the E-Com business to brainstorm with us and brought together a project team with expertise from around the business. Through emails to our Return Revolution inbox, discussions at the coffee machine and whiteboarding sessions, we collectively came up with over 130 ideas in response to this question. The team worked on 100 of these ideas over the year and closed out the financial year successfully having curbed the upward trend in our return rate and achieving a significantly lower percentage than the previous year,” Burke added.

Initiatives worked on initiatives ranged from data and financial analysis to changes on the brands’ websites and in the way the company operates. For example, new environmentally friendly cleaning equipment was installed at its Return Centre in Poland to remove small stains and odour, heavily reducing our need for external cleaning.

These new cleaning options have a dual benefit – they restore products to pristine condition faster so stock can be sold again, and they make a positive environmental impact compared to alternative options by reducing water, paper and chemical usage.

Dashboards and reports were also created for the E-commerce teams to give easy access to return rate insights to help inform decisions. The rollout of an online return portal is also underway, which gives Bestseller more visibility on what products are being returned and why.

The company, like many, also extended its returns period during lockdown to 100 days to encourage shoppers to buy online with confidence, and also found this too, led to fewer returns.

“It might seem counterintuitive but extending the return window has proven to be the right thing to do, both for the customers and the company. Customers can try on the items at home without feeling stressed to make a fast decision. As a result, customers are now keeping more items and returning less,” says Sofie Bertholdson, another member of Return Revolution.

The Returns Revolution project officially came to an end in June but the company says it will now live on following the creation of a new Customer Team, led by Burke and with Bertholdson remaining on-board.

“We are continuing to roll out the online return portal, which will help us collect more data as to why customers return, which items they return and when. In the long term, this will help us understand our customers and how we can improve to further reduce returns,” Bertholdson says.

“We will also continue to look at the return behaviour of our customer base and target any shoppers with unusually high patterns of return activity. Another exciting initiative is our implementation of a process in the Fulfilment Centre where we add a tag to high value, high return items. The purpose is not only to lower the return rate for these items, but also to deter customers from wearing products out and about and then returning," she added.

Yesterday, British online fashion giant ASOS said that lower returns rates had contributed to a huge leap in its year-end profits of 329%. The retailer said that a change in the nature of products bought during the COVID era, such as more lounge and leisurewear, had also contributed to lower returns as they presented less fit issues. Equally customers were being more discerning in what they bought and were making more considered purchases.

In April of last year, ASOS had pledged to take action against "serial returners" by threatening to block users with unusually high returns activity after it was identified that a number of customers were buying items, wearing them for social media posts and then returning them.

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