Vicky Brock CEO Clear Returns wins innovator of the year

Innovator of the Year Award win for Clear Returns CEO

Clear Returns’ CEO, Vicky Brock, was yesterday named Innovator of the Year at the 2014 FDM everywoman in Technology Awards as reported on ComputerWeekly. Judges said Brock, of Glasgow, was deserving of such an award because she is “solving a real-world problem and being a fantastic tech pioneer.”

The annual 2014 FDM everywoman in Technology Awards brought together UK’s leading figures in business and technology to celebrate the achievements of this year’s winners and to demonstrate that the tech sector offers great career opportunities for women possessing a wide range of talents and attributes.

“It is important for women working in technology to step forward and be role models to encourage and inspire more women into the technology sector.”

award

Vicky added: “it is important for women working in technology to step forward and be role models to encourage and inspire more women into the technology sector. It’s a myth that computing and technology is just for the boys, or just for the science graduates. At Clear Returns, we’ve created jobs for men and women of all backgrounds and we’re using technology to make the world better for shoppers and retailers. There’s a wealth of career opportunities for entrepreneurs and for people to work with technology and I hope I can inspire young women to consider that this exciting and varied field could be for them.”

Vicky founded and leads Clear Returns, a Glasgow based technology company, that helps enterprise ecommerce and multichannel retailers optimize their profits by reducing the amount of returns they receive. Their predictive analytics software services help retailers cut operational costs, retain more revenue post sale and improve the customer experience, by helping shoppers keep more of what they buy online.

For more information on Clear Returns or to interview Vicky, please contact Fiona Griffin or Vicky Brock on vicky@clearreturns.com.

What eBay sellers can teach retailers about avoiding returns

With razor thin margins, a return leaves an eBay seller out of pocket. The same is true of larger retailers, or course, but for the individual seller it’s personal.  They care because it’s their money.

Not only is it the cost of lost product and postage that hits the seller, the eBay ratings system means that a seller’s future trustworthiness and margins may be impacted by a return.  Customer experience is quantified. Good sellers achieve better prices than unknown or poor scoring ones, so maintaining ratings are really important.

Returns send a chill through their hearts in a very direct way – and experienced eBay sellers have devised tactics to avoid them.  Some of these tactics are also highly applicable to larger sellers and correlate to how Clear Returns helps tackle returns in larger, complex organisations.

Pain in the wallet drives prevention

The thing that hits an eBay seller’s wallet hardest is the non delivery claim. A seller has to balance low postage costs to stay competitive, with the more expensive certainty of a signature. Plenty of items are sent without any proof to protect the seller and whatever has gone wrong, the buyer always get the benefit of the doubt. The seller has lost their product, shipping costs, has incurred eBay and Pay Pal costs and is thoroughly out of pocket.  But a seller can’t afford to risk their reputation, ratings and right to sell on eBay by obstructing the return, even when a seller suspects a buyer is exploiting that with false claims.

One way eBay handles this – something Clear Returns has also tackled in a different, more appropriate way for multichannel retailers – is to allow sellers to block potential purchases from future transactions.  This in theory helps prevent bad buyer behaviour escalating – at least with the same seller.  The seller community also effectively polices buyers, and buyers are rated in the same way as sellers.  A buyer with repeat suspect behaviour may find themselves blocked, meaning genuine buyers and sellers both benefit.

Not all customers return equally

When a good customer misses out on a buying product because it is out with a known fraudulent shopper (who is less price sensitive than the customer who was planning to keep it) but retailer and shopper lose.  The way Clear Returnshas brought this important customer level actionability to large retailers is through our predictive data platform, which scores and segments customers based on what they keep, then allows automated service responses during and post transaction. The return can be prevented before it occurs.

Good shoppers having a bad experience can be better serviced, fraudulent returners and particularly wardrobers can be effectively blocked.  The seller is protected, good shoppers stop subsidising the cost of fraud – and get an improved overall experience.

Closing the expectation gap

The eBay seller has to reduce the risk of surprises for the buyer in order to minimise the likelihood of a return. While this is more complex for enterprise retailers, at its heart the challenges are the same

Apart from delivery issues, an eBay seller is most vulnerable to those returns caused by expectation gaps and quality control issues.  They are are not obliged to offer refunds because something doesn’t fit  – only if they fail specifically to deliver on a promise.  Providing good measurements and fit information will cut down on questions and get a better sale price, because it reassures the buyer – but ultimately the buyer chooses what they are prepared to pay for something that may or may not fit.

What the seller has to do is reduce the risk of surprises for the buyer – with good descriptions, correct labelling information, images from multiple angles – and most important of all, highlighting and photographing any flaws or faults.  After delivery issues, undisclosed flaws and mis-description are the key causes of returns. And as many retailers will recognise, the nearer the top of the price range the item sells at, the less toleration the customer has for product issues.

Awareness of the scale of the problem drives action

Because the eBay seller feels the pain directly in their pocket, and because for the most part they have a very simple supply chain and touch most parts within that process, their hands on tactics for reducing returns have become pretty sharp.  The data is very real to them, even if once the return occurs, they have little choice but to understand why and ensure the same thing doesn’t happen again.

The enterprise process is far more operationally complex – yet at its heart the issues are the same. First the scale of the problem needs to be understood – from data comes insight, then action. It is by closing the expectation gap, spotting problem products, tackling the major cost points and differentiating problem customers from the majority of good shoppers that ultimately determines profit.

Posted by Vicky Brock

IMRG Connect – it’s all about the customer

Some of the UK’s leading fashion retailers joined industry association IMRG and their members for IMRG Connect this week – here Clear Returns deliver their round up of the event.

One key focus throughout the day emerged – the customerHow should customers be measured – in terms of margin or overall value?

There was debate over how customers should be measured – should it be in terms of margin or overall value? WhileQubit discussed customer lifetime value – however this was based only on customer’s purchase history. Astley Clarkethen discussed the work they have undertaken to personalize the online experience for their customers, including personalised product recommendations based on purchase behaviour – which now account for 6% of their online sales.

The day closed with some retailer case studies from ASOS and Moss Bros, where again the customer was the key priority in terms of providing multiple options and tailoring communication. Moss Bros’ Ecommerce Director Neil Sansom told the audience how close they were to achieving a single customer view, thanks to joined up systems delivering real-time information to a their new CRM. Very soon, a customer will be able to walk into their store and the staff will be armed with their full profile and purchase history.
For a true picture of customer value retailers must take returns into account

Clear Returns propose that for a true picture of customer value retailers must take returns into account. A sale is not a sale until a customer decides they are going to keep an item. Therefore by basing recommendations and marketing on purchase history only, you could be missing the full picture.

Certain customer segments, while purchasing full price items regularly, actually return between 80-90% of what they buy. Therefore while they may appear to be your most important customers, in reality they are the least profitable – taking advantage of free shipping offers and promotional codes and costing you more money in the long run. By utilizing this kind of information within your CRM system, you can tailor your marketing much more effectively and profitably.

The new Quarterly Fashion Returns Review in partnership with IMRG was launched

Clear Returns also launched their new Quarterly Fashion Returns Review in partnership with IMRG at the event. This report is designed to give retailers the ability to regularly track a range of key benchmark metrics to help you monitor, assess and address the issues surrounding returns and their effect on profits and logistics. If you would like to receive an exclusive preview of the report then get in touch, and all IMRG members will receive full access.

Internet Retailing returns research results

In partnership with Internet Retailing, Clear Returns have taken part in a three month research project to uncover retailers current challenges and concerns around returns. Here we give our verdict on the results.

42% of retailers return rates have risen over the last 12 months, which is unsurprising as retailers online sales continue to grow, so will their rate of returns.

While free returns can build trust and encourage bigger baskets it may simply be increasing your returns, since people can easily over order and return items

One key challenge all retailers face with returns are the costs involved. One third of retailers surveyed offered free returns on all sales, and while this can build trust and encourage bigger baskets it may simply be increasing your returns, since people can easily over order and return items. Clear Returns have identified certain segments of customers,’overbuyers’, who deliberately buy large baskets with no intention of keeping all of the items. While free returns is an essential part of retailers’ online offer, you should be aware of customer groups who abuse these policies and tailor your targeting to these customers accordingly to help minimise returns and maximise profitability.

Getting the sale right in the first place is critical to minimising returns.

“We want people to get it right first time so give as much information as possible to ensure they have ordered correctly. Processing returns is costly and a hassle.”

Failure to meet customer expectations was the main driver of returns for 47% of retailers, more so than poor fit. Retailers are currently searching for ways to combat this expectation gap, such as tailoring the amount and quality of product information onsite. This is where Clear Returns has helped retailers take proactive action by automatically alerting the appropriate teams to content issues after only a few returns are made, and delivering recommended actions to solve specific issues.

Another worrying result from the research is that 43% of retailers track returns and capture the data, but do nothing with the information. This is a crucial area for retailers to address in 2014. Making the most of the data you capture will ensure your returns process are more efficient and get stock back on sale faster – maximising profits as a result.

Keep an eye out for the February issue of Internet Retailing for more insight from the survey, and join us at the upcoming Returns Research Briefing on March 5th to hear from all the expert research partners involved.

Why retailers should wait for returns data before celebrating Black Friday

Many UK retailers said that Black Friday was a big success with Amazon UK selling 64 items per second on the day and consequently ‘winning’ Black Friday. But is the celebration of what seems like a huge surge in profits for retailers premature?

‘Despite all the fighting in the isles on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it’s way too early to determine the winner of this match’, said Vicky Brock, CEO of retail returns company Clear Returns. ‘Until the returns data comes in over the coming weeks–and return rates could be as high as 50 per cent–it’s too early to tell who’s “won” these big sales days’.

Visa estimated that £360, 000 would be spent per minute in online stores on Friday, but after Clear Returns’ analysis, it could be that the fuss of big discount days placed right before Christmas might not be worth it for retailers.

The problem is in the way the discounts on these days are set up that make products especially likely to be brought back.

‘All the preconditions necessary to drive up returns are in place’, said Brock. ‘You have a time sensitive offer placed alongside a sense of scarcity and panic, which appeals to over-buyers who make their selection at home post-purchase and panic buyers who get caught up in the emotion of the frenzy and will likely later return the products they did not mean to buy in the first place’.

No respite will be offered by Cyber Monday as shoppers take to their favorite online stores and scroll through for discounts on their favorite electronics, avoiding the city center crowds. Online stores typically have a far higher returns rate and a higher cost of servicing returns than physical stores.

It has been estimated that around £650m was spent online on Cyber Monday. But one-third of online sales on any ordinary shopping day are returned, so imagine the difficulty online stores could face when you take the formula of big business sales days and combine it with online buys.

Retail Week recently estimated that 600, 000 unwanted presents bought on Black Friday and Cyber Monday will be returned by shoppers after Christmas. Post-Christmas returns are a huge loss for retailers, but at least it is an expected one What is not expected are the exceptional levels of hype-driven returns that will be flowing in during the days prior to this peak trading period.

Clear Returns says that we need to not only focus on post-Christmas returns because the timing of post-Black Friday and Cyber Monday returns us also seriously problematic for retailers who are busy fulfilling production during the days leading up to Christmas.

‘I do think we’re going to see peaks in returns just before Christmas and profits will tumble as a result, especially since returns are rarely treated as a priority. Returns are the things that often get tackled only after the warehouse has dealt with outbound fulfillment, meaning that those pre-Christmas returns are just going to sit there. There will be nowhere for the returned stock to go except into January sales or clearance channels’.

Once the costs of returns have been subtracted from the products sold on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, there may be some retailers who are putting away the celebratory champagne and really reassessing the effectiveness of it all.

Posted by Lisa Monozlai