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Looking for the perfect shoe online

Since the day I became a mom, it became clear that the idea of spending an afternoon at the mall, trying on clothes store after store would become a memory of the past. I didn't have the energy to organize a shopping trip with the baby, and even less interest in spending time away from him. Shopping trips to the mall were replaced to long online shopping sessions late at night.

It wasn't a drastic change in fact. I had been shopping online for years, and my work forced me to be a somewhat savvy online shopper. So I didn't mind.... until I needed to find the perfect shoe to wear for my sister's wedding. I already had the dress and I had a very specific idea of the shoe I needed: the color, the height, the style, etc... Easy, I thought: Online stores have large assortments, easy filtering tools, reviews. I should find the perfect shoe in no time!
Well, not that fast. It turns out that assessing the exact color on a computer screen is quite difficult, and it didn't matter if the shoe fit 1,000s of other women if it doesn't fit me. So, I ended up buying 4 pairs of shoes one after the other and returning all of them. This process gave me the chance to compare my experiences with online returns.

Overall, I thought retailers did a good job in processing the returns and working through refunds and communication. This is big progress compared to recent years as far as I can tell (I used to be very skeptical about returns of items bought online from hearing about bad stories).
My main issue concerned the process of physically returning the items. For online-only retailers, I didn't really have the choice: I had to send back the shoes per mail. While I wish I didn't have to spend the time repacking everything, the mailing label was usually easy to organize. I guess that's all I could expect.

Retailers with both online and physical presence tend to have an advantage as they can accept returns in their stores. Those retailers who don't offer this service are not taking advantage of their full potential. First, customers are starting to expect to have this option when returning an item. It helps address the hassle of re-packing and mailing, and remove the uncertainty of not getting the refund quickly. So, there is a strong chance of disappointing customers if the option isn't available (this happened to me). Second, the subsequent store visit could generate additional impulse sales and increased loyalty that I am sure no retailer would want to miss.
That said, it's not a good customer experience either when multi-channel retailers push customers to return items in their stores to the point of making it difficult to return per mail (this happened to me as well). While this might be the best solution for them, they are missing the concept of convenience from the customer standpoint. What if there is no store around me? What if it's more convenient for me to drop a package at the post office? Retailers shouldn't make assumptions on behalf of customers about the easiest way to return items. They should just give us the choice.

I hope that online retailers will continue to work on making online returns as easy as possible, so that next time I (or many other customers for that matter) need to return an item, we don't have to spend time figuring out what options are available and arguing with Customer Service about what is the most convenient way of returning an item from a customer standpoint.


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