Customer Return Rate Evolution
33 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2021 Last revised: 16 Aug 2022
Date Written: July 28, 2021
Customer return rate evolution—whether return rates decrease or increase over the course of the customer-firm relationship—is of great economic importance to retailers. Analyzing the complete purchase and return behavior of about 8,000 customers of an online fashion retailer over seven years, we show that the average customer’s return rate increases by 40% from their first to tenth purchase. We investigate how customers’ past behavior explains returns for their current purchase and ultimately return rate evolution. Our results provide evidence for a brand experience effect: A greater number of previously purchased items indicates a decrease in return rate. We also find evidence for a return habit effect: A greater share of previously returned items indicates an increase in return rate. We quantify both effects and show that return habits dominate, resulting in an increase in customer return rates. For managers, return rates evolution has important implications. If managers at the focal retailer ignored customers’ return rate evolution, they would overestimate cumulative customer value after 10 purchases by about 40%.
Keywords: online retailing, customer return rates, customer-retailer relationship, customer value
JEL Classification: M31
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation