16 Online Retailers That Have Perfected the Return Process

When it comes to returns, consistency is everything. Consumers return a whopping $264.3 billion of merchandise per year—and while you strive to avoid them as a retailer, it’s important to provide a seamless experience when it does happen.

StellaService evaluated 96 companies across 10 categories for the quality of their returns process from June to August. Only 16 of those businesses achieved the caliber of Perfect Returns, defined as a company that always provides a prepaid, adhesive return label in the package and never requires authorization to initiate the return. As we all migrate toward e-commerce, checking all those boxes can make a big difference.

“A lot of consumer research shows that the impediments to purchase—which include shipping costs and difficult returns—are the roadblocks to purchasing online,” says consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow. “So the return policy can really be a make-or-break for online retailers.”

With the number of jeans that don’t fit the first time around, it wasn’t surprising that apparel companies dominated the ranks of Perfect Returns. Ten of the 16 companies with Perfect Returns were apparel businesses, while the rest comprised 3 department stores, 2 sporting goods shops and a sportswear retailer. Here’s the complete list:

  • Abercrombie.com
  • Barneys.com
  • BrooksBrothers.com
  • Cabelas.com
  • EddieBauer.com
  • Fanatics.com
  • JCrew.com
  • LLBean.com
  • Nordstrom.com
  • RalphLauren.com
  • SaksFifthAvenue.com
  • Shopbop.com
  • SierraTradingPost.com
  • ToryBurch.com
  • UrbanOutfitters.com
  • VictoriasSecret.com

Shopbop, Urban Outfitters and Nordstrom were best-in-class by providing returns at no cost to the customer. Nordstrom’s fast processing earned it a spot among the top 5 department store performers in StellaService’s Benchmarks 10 out of the past 11 months, and Shopbop scored second highest for speed, averaging 8.8 days for a refund. Apparel retailers Eddie Bauer and Tory Burch followed in tow with fast return processing despite a $6 to $7 cost to the consumer.

L.L. Bean set the gold standard for speed, averaging 7.3 days to issue a return. The service paid off despite its $6.50 return fee, as the outdoor retailer made the top 5 Benchmarks rankings in the apparel category for the past 11 consecutive months. Sporting goods retailer Sierra Trading Post also also fared consistently well for the past 5 months. The 10 other companies all met StellaService’s criteria for Perfect Returns 100% of the time—a consistency that’s undeniably tied to a company’s brand loyalty with customers.

But not everything is as easy to return as a sweater. Categories like home furnishings didn’t fare so well, with an average refund time of over two weeks and inconsistencies with its return label policies. Hardware and home improvement also struggled. And while electronics and media companies were fastest across all retail categories, averaging 6.6 days to refund, few provided pre-paid return labels in the package.

As we migrate further online for all our shopping needs, the returns process becomes increasingly important. And the data goes to show that consistency wins the game—or at least the repeat customer.

“We’re getting to the point now where a retailer that doesn’t have a seamless return policy is viewed as being from another era,” says Yarrow. “They’re less trustworthy in the eye of the consumer. There’s too much competition otherwise, and I don’t see someone hanging on long without a consumer-centric return policy.”

Reporting by Beina Xu. 

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