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Is Bad Support Driving Significantly Higher Electronics Returns?

A report from market research firm NDP Group that came out earlier this week makes an eyebrow-lifting assertion: Better tech support by electronics vendors could reduce returns by up to 70 percent.

According to the study, 13 percent of consumers returned at least one electronics device after being frustrated in trying to get it to work, although 68 percent of that group said that "appropriate tech support" would have eliminated the need to bring the product back to the retailer.

First, let's get the caveats in, as there are some strong reasons to take the results with some salt. Any time you ask people what they would do in some hypothetical situation, you're looking for trouble. It's one of the least reliable types of market research you can find, because invariably most consumers really have no idea of how they'd behave in a given circumstance. Also, here's the NDP statement about the study's methodology:

More than 1,500 members of NPD's online consumer panel took part in this survey which was conducted June 10 â€" June 22, 2009.
There's no mention of how panel members are chosen, the number of members who were asked to answer the survey, versus the number that did, and the demographics of the panel and how that might reflect the country as a whole. In short, I suspect there's a good chance that the panel is not representative of the country as a whole.

However, I would also expect such a panel to be at least a bit more tech-savvy than the average consumer, which would suggest that the likelihood of returns from most people to possibly be higher. And it hardly strains credulity that bad product experiences lead to greater numbers of returns.

But I do wonder whether the issue is one of tech support or product design. There's no way to know for sure, but I couldn't help but be struck by NDP's phrasing: "frustration from getting an electronics device to work." That sounds like an issue of incomprehensible functions or interface, not a flaw in a device. But a great deal of technical support assumes a break-fix situation. Perhaps electronics vendors would do better to develop a sort of post-sale user assistance and make sure that consumers knew of it. There would likely be a secondary benefit of increasing the strength of relationship to the customer and, as a result, increasing lifetime customer value and decreasing gross customer acquisition costs.

Illustration via stock.xchng user voodoo4u2n, site standard license.

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