Returns are a bit like death and taxes – there’s no chance of avoiding them. While they occur due to a multitude of factors, many outside the retailer’s control, there is an area of returns that retailers, large or small, can sometimes overlook and can control. That is the issue of ‘return to sender’, which is caused by poor quality customer data – particularly address data.
Author: Barley Laing, UK Managing Director at Melissa
Data collection via mobile devices
A standout problem for the retail sector is an increased reliance on customer-provided data in the mobile age. Using small mobile screens it’s easy for shoppers to mistype their contact information, with any mistakes potentially delaying delivery of a package, or as can more often happen, it’s returned to sender.
Even outside of data provided by customers, those in contact centres can make mistakes too when inputting data. It’s why approximately 20 per cent of addresses entered online contain inaccurate postcodes, incorrect house numbers and spelling mistakes, for example.
These errors lead to retailers handling the return and the storage of the product, as well as having to re-engage with the customer to confirm their address and then re-shipping it. This is costly, not only in monetary terms but also in reputation, because an unhappy shopper with a negative experience can have an impact on customer retention.
It’s straightforward to avoid the scourge of non-deliverable returns and ensure a high level of data quality by obtaining accurate and verified customer data. An ideal time to achieve this is at the customer onboarding stage when a purchase is about to be made. Then, once data quality is delivered, it’s vital to use data cleansing tools to ensure the ongoing accuracy and validity of the contact data.
Autocomplete to deliver address accuracy
The best place to start to guarantee accurate address data is collected is to use an address autocomplete tool across all digital touchpoints. Ideally, one that has cross-border functionality, so it can operate at a global level. These tools automatically reveal a suggested correct version of the address as the customer completes an online contact form. The shopper can then select one that’s not only accurate but easily recognised, and correctly formatted for their country location.
But it’s not only in preventing mistakes caused by fat fingers on a small screen where autocomplete comes into its own; it can decrease the number of keystrokes required when typing an address by up to 70 per cent. This not only speeds up the checkout process but reduces shopping cart abandonment.
Know your customer (KYC) verification
The verification of a customer’s entire record also helps to ensure data quality and accuracy. It’s something that shouldn’t be ignored, particularly if you are selling a high-value item because it also helps to block fraudulent purchases.
Effective data verification encompasses undertaking KYC checks to confirm that the person you are engaging with is who they claim to be. The best way to implement these checks is to utilise a data partner with access to trusted reference data from sources such as credit agencies and the electoral roll. This data can then be used to cross-validate a consumer’s data for proof of address – importantly linking the individual to a specific address. Also, email address verification can take place with mailbox validity checks to protect the merchant from spam traps and phone numbers can have live status and registered user checks. To maintain a smooth customer experience, and avoid any delays with customer onboarding, it’s vital all this activity takes place in real-time.
Improve logistics and reduce shipping costs
Once retailers have accurate customer address data they can take a big step forward in improving logistics and reducing shipping costs. This is possible by adding geocodes to customer addresses to deliver precise geographic (rooftop) latitude and longitude coordinates. With this information it’s feasible to determine the shopper’s distance from distribution points, enabling a real-time calculation of shipping costs. Retailers can then offer a number of price levels depending on how fast the customer wants delivery. Further good news for retailers is that geocoding goes wider than logistics and can aid broader sales and marketing efforts, such as sales clustering.
A focus on delivering customer address data quality in 2020 must be a key objective for any e-commerce retailer serious about curbing costly return to sender issues. Not only will it save money, but potentially avoid alienating customers in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Additionally, extra investment in ID verification and geocoding as part of this process will bring further rewards.