A survey by shopping comparison site PriceRunner has shown that while customers love the convenience of shopping online, etailers’ return processes leave much to be desired.

PriceRunner surveyed 400 online shoppers, all of whom have been shopping online for up to five years. Almost 40% were unhappy with the processes for returning goods bought online.

The main reasons for returning goods were damage to items, the wrong goods being delivered, and customers deciding that they didn’t want the item after all. Clothes and shoes were the most common returns.

Shoppers are not happy about paying postage costs to return goods, as well as the hassle of going to the Post Office to send return packages.

For online retailers, management of returns policies is an important but often overlooked aspect of the customer experience.

Customers should be able to return or exchange goods without additional expense or inconvenience. An effective returns policy can help develop customer loyalty and make repeat business far more likely.

Returns policies also play a part in a customers choice of e-commerce site. If you are buying something online which you cannot touch or feel, then the ability to return the product is important.

For instance, Harris Interactive’s ‘Study About Returns’ from 2004 found that 85% of customers would not make a second purchase at a retailer without a convenient returns policy.

Amazon provides a good example of this. It will allow you to return goods within 30 days for any reason, provided they are in the original packaging. They will also refund the cost of postage.

Argos, meanwhile, offers to collect any unwanted or faulty goods free of charge – although customers often have to wait some days for the goods to be picked up and for refunds to go through, which is more than a mild irritation if they have been supplied with faulty goods. But they do have the option of returning any item purchased online to an Argos store.

E-consultancy’s own research has shown the importance of good online customer service; 80% of customers are less likely to return to a site after a bad online experience, and such experiences have a knock on effect on how customers view the company in general.