As the ecommerce space continues to draw in buyers previously committed to brick-and-mortar stores, exceptional customer service has become ground zero in the battle to win over consumers.
Apple has significantly reduced its return and refund times, a move that could ultimately increase its profits by aggressively competing for ecommerce customer loyalty, according to research conducted by Stella Service. The customer-service research firm defines "refunds" as customers getting back the money they spent to purchase an item, and "returns" as customers returning a product back to Apple.
The findings were revealed in a Reuters report that said Apple reduced refund-processing times from around 10 days to under a week. At least part of the faster processing is because of the Cupertino, Calif. company's decision to use FedEx two-day prepaid shipping labels to process returns, according to the report.
Stella Service noticed the faster shipping methods last November, but reportedly assumed it was related to the upcoming holiday-shopping season. A Stella Service spokesperson told Mashable that the best-performing month for Apple returns was December, taking 4.5 days on average to process, and the fastest refunds were processed in three days (once in February and once in March).
What's more, the faster returns weren't limited to mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads. "Over the last few months, we have ordered a mix of laptops, tablets and accessories," the Stella Service spokesperson told Mashable.
When Mashable called Apple's ecommerce support line, the customer-service representative confirmed the company is currently using FedEx prepaid labels to assist consumers with returns, and said refunds are generally processed within three to five days on Apple's end.
And while cutting a few days off refunds and returns might seem like a slight improvement in the grand scheme of things, the fact is that top-shelf customer service is increasingly the deciding factor for online consumers choosing between competing ecommerce sites.Zappos, an Amazon-owned online-apparel retailer, has built much of its public reputation on the extreme lengths it goes to provide above-average customer service.
By cutting down the wait times for returns and refunds, Apple could encourage consumers accustomed to buying its products from third-party sites to switch and buy directly from its own site. Apple now ranks as the no. 2 ecommerce site, displacing former second-place company, office-supply chain Staples, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Amazon still holds onto the no. 1 spot, with sales of $67.8 billion in electronics last year.