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Will Shoppers Pay for Free Returns?

Many people were skeptical when Amazon introduced its Prime Shipping program – would shoppers really pay an upfront cost ($79 at the time) to get free, fast shipping? Amazon proved a free-shipping membership program works. Now comes a membership program for free return shipping – and it has the potential to benefit almost any merchant, except home-based sellers.

Clarus Marketing Group, which operates the website FreeShipping.com, has launched Return Saver. Consumers pay $49/year, and in return, they pay no shipping for returned items the purchase – no matter the online merchant from which they’ve purchased. The size of the merchant doesn’t matter, nor must sellers take any action to participate – as long as the return-to address is a business address, all merchants are included.

There is no cap on the number of items members can return, though there are a few restrictions:

  • Members are limited to using FedEx Ground for the returns;
  • Package limitations are set at up to 50 pounds in weight and up to 130 inches in length plus girth;
  • The savings only apply to return shipping charges for merchants who don’t offer free returns.

So, for example, if a specific merchant’s return policy is to pay for any or all return shipping charges that its customers incur, return shipments to that retailer will not be eligible for return shipping coverage.

Update 7/1/14: A Return Saver spokesperson contacted EcommerceBytes on Tuesday with the following clarification: “The good news for consumers is that regardless of the merchant or if the merchant pays for return shipping (even entirely) that purchase is still eligible for Free Return Shipping from Return Saver. All merchants are honored regardless of their own return policies.”

Merchants can reach out to Clarus Marketing Group to add information about the Return Saver program to their website, which the company’s CEO Tom Caporaso told EcommerceBytes could help boost conversions, but it’s not required. Does Clarus collect information such as traffic and conversions from retail websites that advertise the program? No, Caporaso said – and the consumer provides information only when going through the returns process.

The fine print is available on the Return Saver website, including the following:

“A Retail Website is a business that sells consumer goods to the general public on a regular basis via the Internet. A Retail Website does not include membership or cooperative buying organizations or clubs, charities, subsidized businesses, auction or classified-ad websites, or subscription rental programs.The destination for a return shipment must be a valid commercial address in the 48 contiguous United States. Shipments sent to residential addresses, P.O. boxes, or other non-commercial locations do not qualify for savings through the program.

Double-checking about whether consumers could use the program for purchases made on sites like eBay and Etsy, Caporaso said, “as long as it goes to a business address, returns to marketplaces are acceptable.”

So how does this benefit online sellers? The program gives peace of mind to shoppers, who can use their own bedrooms as dressing rooms, for example – facilitating more online shopping, Caporaso said. And despite the fact there is no limit on the number of returns a member can make, he believes it will be a profitable product for his company due to favorable rates.

The program is inclusive – Caporaso said the company did not negotiate with retailers. “Return shipping continues to be a pain point for online shoppers.” With free returns, he believes it will bring more sales to merchants.

More information for merchants is available on the Solutions page on ReturnSaver.com.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.