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How to improve customer experiences in the returns and exchanges process

Let's face it: dealing with paper receipts is difficult. They tend to become creased, their ink faded, and more often than not they are hiding somewhere the moment you would need them.

However, receipts play a central part of the everyday life for any business – or many central parts, to be exact.

One of them is the returns and exchanges process, where a receipt proves that the item has indeed been purchased from the same company or hasn't already been exchanged.

Now, keeping in mind how easily paper receipts get creased or even lost, how could a business provide easier returns and exchanges in retail?

One solution is offering digital receipts.

In Sweden, 54 percent would like to get their receipts in a digital form. Main reasons for this preference are environment and easier storing.

When it comes to returns and exchanges specifically, digital receipts help to reduce friction at checkout points. After all, we often have something better to do than stand in line when someone before us is returning a pile of products.

To illustrate this, let's look at two examples – one explaining how the process typically goes nowadays and one to demonstrate how it could go with the help of digital solutions.

1. Paper receipts require manual work

Ellen has purchased a sweater she now needs to change to another size. She makes her way to the store and explains the situation to the sales staff. They have to verify Ellen's request: Has the sweater been purchased from this company and does the condition meet their quality requirements for returns and exchanges.

This is most commonly done by showing the receipt of the purchase. Ellen has been able to find the receipt – but crammed into her wallet, so it's badly worn.

The staff then needs to find the past purchase in their POS system. They first try to scan Ellen's receipt but since it's so creased and worn, they have to insert the order ID manually. Again, this takes some time, since the last number of the sequence is barely visible and a few tries are needed before the system finds the right purchase.

This is followed by a process of printing, stapling, signing, and exchanging multiple new receipts in order for Ellen to get the sweater in another size. In the end, the staff also needs to store the receipt properly for inventory and accounting.

Sounds exhaustive, right?

Let's see how this process could look like with the help of digital tools.

2. Digital process saves everybody's time

Ellen is in the same situation as before, having purchased a sweater in a wrong size. She searches for the receipt in her digital wallet and finds it conveniently from a folder named after the company.

Ellen then makes her way to the store where she shows to the staff from her phone. The store can verify the purchase by scanning the receipt from the screen, and see if the receipt can be found in their POS system.

Agreeing to just exchange the sweater to a correct size, the staff can change the status of the original receipt to returned and assign a new receipt for the new sweater. Both Ellen and the store will immediately see the changes, Ellen on her app and the store as updated information in their POS system.

Digital transactions improve CX

If you stop for a moment now and think back to those two scenarios, which one would you prefer?

Everybody saves valuable time not having to deal with creased receipts, printing and asking to sign new ones – and this doesn't only mean the staff and the customer but also everyone standing in line waiting for their turn. Seeing how easy and quick returns and exchanges process can be will likely impress other customers as well.

In other words, a smooth return and exchange process does not only improve the customer experience of the one making the return but also those standing in the line.

Digital receipts can also help solve some other problems in the process, since manual tasks can account for human error. Maybe the staff has difficulties finding the purchase in the POS system, maybe they are unable to refund the payment, maybe the return doesn't get updated into the system, and so on. This could disrupt data processing and cause issues in inventory and accounting.

With an integrated POS system, digital receipts can easily be scanned from customers' device and thereby found in the system. Additionally, with 100% digital transactions data is updated both in real time and correctly, thus reducing the risk of running into issues in other areas.

Lastly, depending on the country you are in, there may be consumer laws that ensure that customers need to be able to return an item even without a receipt on some conditions. This could be prevented if receipts were digital and organised in an app instead of being crammed into a wallet or spread around an email inbox.

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