Fickle Americans sure return lots of tech devices

Smartphone is the most commonly returned consumer electronics device, according to a new NPD study. The category accounts for 10 percent of all returns or exchanges, followed by PCs. More broadly, 18 million Americans took back or sent back some CE device during the previous 12 months. We are a fickle lot, indeed.

If you ever wondered why Apple, Google and other companies post so many how-to videos, preventing returns or exchanges is one reason. While 57 percent of returnees cite defective product as reason, the real numbers can't be that high. People are dissatisfied, often because they don't understand how the device works.

"Making sure the consumer knows how to use their new device, whether it be a smartphone or a PC, and knowing how to use it before they leave the store helps increase product and retailer satisfaction", Ben Arnold, director of NPD industry analysis, says. "Earlier this year our Tech Support Services Study found a majority of consumers used tech support for troubleshooting and how-to-support, not for product repair, just more evidence that these devices are working but that consumers are having trouble operating them".

NPD cites device complexity as factor, with features like Internet connectivity, proximity sensors and touchscreens dumbfounding many purchasers. Some manufacturers do better, or worse, than others, but the analyst firm wouldn't say which ones. However: 60 percent of smartphone returns, and 52 percent of flat-screen televisions, are for the same brand. High returns create negative brand perception, a problem improved education and tech support could resolve.

Case in point: Flat-panel TVs are among the least-returned CE devices, just 4 percent. While the devices are complex, many retailers provide in-store support before purchase or installation services afterwards.

"Retailers have an opportunity with exchanges to show consumers they can provide quality and value", Arnold says. "As technology devices become more complex and connected, pre-and post-sales support becomes more important in keeping returns low and consumer satisfaction for brands and retailers high".

NPD recommends that retailers offer more in-store education, extended services plans or warranties and better post-purchase support as means of preventing returns.

Have you returned a tech product in the last six months? What?

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