Towards returns management strategies in internet retailing

Abstract: The digital transformation of the retailing industry in recent years has had a profound effect on consumers’ behaviour on a global scale. When shopping and browsing online, consumers are not able to “touch and feel”, which means that product returns are inevitable. The fashion industry has particularly suffered from high return rates, which fluctuate between 30% and 50%. The industry has been struggling to strike a balance between competitive customer service, profitability and company sustainability targets.Against this backdrop, the purpose of this thesis is to contribute to the development of returns management strategies in internet retailing. Returns management in an online environment encapsulates both the return policy and the return process. The former has an impact on consumers, whilst the latter refers to the company itself. Four studies provide evidence to serve the purpose of the thesis. First, the author investigates how the return policy affects purchase decisions (Study I and Study II) and second, how internet retailers manage their return processes (Study III). Finally, the author sheds light on the way effective strategies for returns management can be established (Study IV).Two quantitative studies and two qualitative studies were conducted. More specifically, in Study I and Study II, data were collected from consumers through an online survey. Study III followed an exploratory multiple case study design, while in Study IV, data were collected through a confirmatory multiple case study.The findings of this thesis have significant implications for theory and practice. This research extends the returns management literature by uncovering mediating and moderating mechanisms of interest. The notion of fit between returns management and business intent can prove to be a valuable tool with extensive applicability to a wide range of returns-related decisions. This research also presents an array of identified misalignments that can assist supply chain managers in designing effective and robust returns management strategies in the internet retailing domain.

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