by Alex Palmer | February 06, 2015
For retailers seeking ways to ensure customers want to keep returning to their store, they should make sure it is easy for them to return products purchased there, a new study finds. New research from Cincinnati-based loyalty-program design company LoyaltyOne finds that 60.9 percent of shoppers would abandon a retailer if they had an unpleasant experience returning an item there.

The research, which pulls from the online responses of more than 1,200 consumers, asking about their post-holiday experiences and expectations with retailers, found that returning gifts is a major factor in the average shopper's connection to a company.

While a majority of shoppers were willing to abandon a retailer over a negative return experience, more than three-quarters of respondents (79.3 percent) said that a positive experience returning a gift would motivate them to shop more often at the store. Similarly, 83.3 percent said they would share information about a positive gift-return experience with friends and family.

This makes gift returning something that LoyaltyOne terms a "high-risk/high-reward" interaction.

"The concept of high-risk touch points continues to gain the interest of retailers, as customers are increasingly fickle and their loyalty is divided," said LoyaltyOne Consulting Managing Partner Dennis Armbruster, in a statement. "It's no longer just about attracting shoppers in the store, it's about cultivating their loyalty through the entire sales and return process."

He added that the rise of social media has escalated these opportunities for either positive or negative word-of-mouth.

"Retailers should use shopper data to identify who their best customer segments are, and base return policies on what would suit this group," said Armbruster. "Retailers should use data to identify if the gift returner is a regular customer, and factor this into return guidelines - possibly extending the return deadline for loyalty program members."

Drilling down into specific demographics, the study found that men (45.1 percent) were more likely to have a negative experience returning a gift than women (31.7 percent), but that men (81.7 percent) were also more likely than women (70.7 percent) to return after a positive experience.