Banning Serial Returners: Is It Worth It?

In part II of returns & exchanges, we explore the banning serial returners trend, and consider whether there’s a better way to handle those finicky shoppers

Matt Duczeminski
September 04 2019

Last week, we talked about a major issue that’s discussed more and more in eCommerce:

 How can eCommerce companies deal with an increase in returns and exchanges?

We discussed the notion that, despite the inherent costs associated with processing returns, there’s also a lot of value to squeeze out of these occasions.

In many cases, the potential value gained from a returns experience isn’t worth the cost of processing the return. For this reason, many companies have banned ‘serial returners’ altogether. While in some cases, banning serial returners is the best solution, at other times, it can actually cause more damage.

More from PostFunnel on the customer experience:
5 Tips from Companies that Put Customer Centricity Up Front
When Ecommerce Personalization Goes Wrong: 10 Easy Ways to Fix It
4 KPIs You Should Track to Measure Ecommerce Retention

Before you drop the ban-hammer on your serial returners, there are a few things you should consider.

Serial Returners’ Impact On Your Business

In May 2018, Amazon began notifying customers who had made a large amount of returns that their accounts had been permanently closed. Following this, BrightPearl conducted a survey which found that 61% of US companies would take similar action, with 25% of respondents saying banning serial returners is a “necessary move to protect their slim margins.”

Consider the following:

  • 30% of consumers deliberately over-purchase when placing orders, while 19% order versions of the same item—both with the intention of returning most of their orders
  • NPR/Marist found that merely 7% of consumers return products “often,” and only 2% do so “very often.”

The point is, serial returners impact different businesses in different ways. Before banning all customers who make “too many returns,” figure out how harmful serial returners are to your business:

  • What percentage of your customer base do they comprise?
  • How much revenue do they generate?
  • Are there other aspects that factor into your cost-per-return?

Dig into your metrics and predictive analytics to determine how much they’re costing you in money, time, and resources—and identify where you hope to be after your serial returner crackdown.

That way, no matter how you decide to proceed, you’ll be able to do so with confidence, and can gauge your decision’s impact on your business.

The Implications of Banning Serial Returners

There are a couple of ways banning serial returners will affect your business: customer-facing scenarios, and internal repercussions.

Customer-Facing Implications of Banning Serial Returners

On the customer-facing side you might lose more than just your serial returners after instating the ban. You might also alienate customers who oppose the ban. While BrightPearl found that 58% of all consumers agree with these bans, 20% of millennial shoppers say they would never shop with a brand that instituted such policies.

There’s also a chance that you might erroneously ban a customer or group of customers. In a 2018 article from the Wall Street Journal, an Amazon spokesperson admits that, though few and far between, mistakes happen. And those mistakes could sour customers’ relationship with your brand.

Internal Implications of Banning Serial Returners

Other than the obvious trade-off (losing business, but not having to process as many returns), there’s still a very important cost you’ll need to consider:

The cost of enforcing the ban.

To enforce a ban on serial returners, you need to identify them. Unfortunately, Brightpearl found that 59% of companies either don’t know who their serial returners are, or don’t even know how to identify them.

If your organization falls into this category, you’ll need to invest in various tools that can track and inform you on specific customer habits, and train your team to use those platforms.

Once you start banning overzealous serial returners, you can’t just set it and forget it. Rather, you’ll need to invest manpower and other resources in maintaining your software and databases, solving technical glitches, and providing service to your customers regarding the ban.

When deciding whether or not to ban serial returners from your store, consider the possibly far-reaching implications it’ll have on your business.

Consider the Alternatives—and Evolve

You know the impact of serial returning on your brand and you’ve also considered the potential impact banning such customers may have. Before taking any drastic measures, you need to ask yourself one last question:

Is there any other way we can mitigate the serial returner problem without having to ban our paying customers?

More often than not, you’ll have at least a few options at your disposal that can lead to a better outcome for everyone involved.

Refining Your Returns Policy

Serial returners aren’t doing anything wrong; they’re taking full advantage of a company’s liberal returns policy. They’re not trying to pull one over on you or steal from you. They want to engage with your company and give you their business.

In our previous post, we mentioned that most consumers check out a company’s returns policy before purchasing from them. But this doesn’t mean your policy has to cater to them, it just needs to be reasonable on both ends.

Even massive companies like L.L. Bean have started rethinking their returns policies:

Depending on your circumstances, you may want to adjust certain aspects of your policy—or revamp it all together.

For example, you could:

  • Implement restocking and returns fees on larger items or orders
  • Set a time or item limit for “No Questions Asked” returns
  • Refuse returns for certain items based on a given set of factors

No matter how you amend your returns policy, it’s essential that you explain the changes in clear terms to your customers—and that you ensure the changes will ultimately benefit those who have remained loyal to your company over the years.

Enhancing Pre-Purchase CX

For customers, the main downside of eCommerce is the inherent inability to physically see and touch an item before purchasing it.

While you can’t mitigate this issue completely, you can minimize it by providing as much product information as possible.

Some key ways to do this:

  • Providing comprehensive product descriptions on your product pages
  • Showcasing detailed, high-quality product photographs and videos that show your products in action
  • Developing supplemental content that paints a more vivid picture of the context surrounding your product or service

Take a look at this product page which showcases Oransi’s Max HEPA Air Purifier:


Between the bulleted list of product information and the photos, Oransi provides their customers with a good idea of how the purifier will fit into their lives.

By frontloading information about your products into the pre-purchase experience, you give your customers a better idea of whether they’ll keep an item after purchasing it. This way, they can focus on finding products they have no intention of returning.

Improving Your Returns Processes

Unfortunately, there will always be some cost to processing returns.

Whether it’s time, money, or other resources, every return will cost your business in some way or another.

While you can’t completely do away with these costs, you can minimize them by improving the efficiency of your returns processing.

Some additional improvements might include:

  • Reducing touchpoints between processing returns and restocking items
  • Optimizing defined destination of returned items based on ease of pickup and delivery to warehouse
  • Ensuring cross-team communication throughout your organization regarding returns

Even after refining your policy, enhancing your pre-purchase CX, and improving your internal returns processes, you may ban serial returners, but the improvements will benefit your business moving forward.

Serial returners are a real nuisance for eCommerce companies in all industries, but sweeping the issue under the rug by banning them outright isn’t necessarily productive and can tarnish your brand’s relationship with your audience.

You can either do what many other companies in your industry are doing and start banning your serial returners, or you could become the brand that figures out how to engage with them in a way that’s mutually beneficial to both involved parties. While the success of the latter path is not guaranteed, it’s definitely worth exploring.

10 Actionable Insights for Online Retailers

Matt Duczeminski

Matt is a professional writer specializing in helping entrepreneurs improve relationships with their customers. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, Sarah, and he'd probably get a lot more work done if his cat would stop bothering him.

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