It’s okay. It happens. We’re talking about returns. Customers have always needed or wanted to return items they purchased, whether that is an online or brick-and-mortar store. There is no need to panic when you get a return request from a customer – and it doesn’t need to be a complicated process either.
Whether you handle your order fulfillment and returns management in-house or you have a partner you use for these services, let’s take a look at eCommerce returns management and how you can simplify the process on your own or with a third party logistics partner.
Returns happen. According to the National Retail Federation, the average online return rate is just about 20% – and online orders are returned more often than items purchased in brick-and-mortar stores. However, this is due to a few different reasons.
More than 80% of returns happen because the product is damaged or broken, according to Sale Cycle. The same study showed that with online purchases, more than a quarter of people deliberately over-purchase and return unwanted items later.
This is explained by nearly 20% saying they purchase multiples in different colors or variations to make up their mind on which to keep when it gets delivered. All the unwanted items or variants they decide against become returned to inventory.
Navar says that 95% of online shoppers say a positive return experience drives customer loyalty. So if you can create a great returns experience, where customers do not have to work too hard or spend too much time returning an item, they are likely to return or recommend your online store to others.
When a customer wants to return an item, what is your process right now? Most eCommerce stores have one in place because it’s a common request. However, most customers do not always read the return policy when they place an order or even when they go to make the return. Having a clear, easy-to-understand returns policy can make this easier for your customers – and you, once they start the returns process.
If you want to improve your eCommerce reverse logistics process beyond making it simpler for customers to figure out, here are a few of the best ways to do so.
While having more and better information will not help with customers who deliberately over-order or customers who receive a damaged item, it can help you see fewer returns from people who just did not know what to expect. Spending some time on writing a great product description is a good investment.
Make sure the return policy is easy to find and understand (bullet points can help customers get the information they need – then you can list out all the important details underneath the important parts).
Having a link to this information in the footer of your website and also in all emails related to the order (the confirmation, shipping notification, delivery notification, and any other emails you send) can help customers get the info they need so that your team is not having to answer questions that are easily found in the returns policy.
If you do not already have a clear timeline for returns, this is something you should do. 30 days is about average and gives customers time to make decisions about your products.
Having a timeline also makes it so that you can reject return requests after the timeframe unless you choose to make an exception.
This can help cut down on the number of late returns and can also make it so if an item is returned, it is easier to find the order information in your system.
When you use automation to process returns, the AI will do everything from checking to see if the item is eligible for a return, updating the CRM and order management software, and sending the customer the return label.
This speeds up the process and makes it so you or your staff do not have to be so hands-on with checking into every return request. (If an item is not eligible or is unable to determine its status, your team will need to provide handling instructions.)
If you are already using a 3PL for order fulfillment, you may be able to add on returns management services. With this, your 3PL partner would handle the returns process, from getting the customer a shipping label to re-shelving or disposing of the item appropriately.
This makes it a hands-off process for you, while still giving your customer quick and efficient service from professionals who can handle the return and all communication associated with it.
Most 3PLs will also have all returns information available for you on a dashboard, so you can have full insight into returned inventory to spot trends, problems, or manufacturing concerns.
Now that you know how you can begin to improve your eCommerce returns management processes, let’s take a look at 6 best practices you can implement now to better manage returns.
Certain things when it comes to returns can’t be changed. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), if a customer receives a defective product, you have to issue a refund. In some states, there are also laws stating how customer returns and refunds must be handled. In most places, you have to post your returns policy in a clear place.
Making sure your reverse logistics policy is easy to skim and understand quickly will reduce confusion and frustration for your customers. Very few people read the fine print, so having important information is key in your returns policy. Information like return shipping instructions, deadlines or timelines, and any criteria for initiating the returns policy up top in an easy-to-find place can help simplify the process for you and your customer.
As mentioned in the first best practice, it’s usually required that you post the returns policy on your website. Create a dedicated page, including the link in the footer so it’s visible on every page. Also, having the link in all order-related emails make it easy to find and visible to customers.
When you have a ton of information on your product pages, people will be able to make better decisions that can help to reduce return rates. Including sizes, dimensions, colors, weights, care instructions, descriptions, and more can help people better understand what to expect with each product.
Taking photos of the items from different angles, or using a 360-degree image/video tool can give people an exact picture of what they will get. All of this can help people have better expectations so they are not surprised when their order comes.
Some studies have shown that more than half of people check out the returns policy before making their first purchase. So having a returns policy that is flexible enough for customers to trust and transparent enough that they know what to expect can go a long way.
Making it easy for them to return an unwanted or unneeded item is important to many shoppers, but communicating what they can expect (even before they place that first order) is key in increasing customer satisfaction.
Tracking the costs of returned inventory can help you identify any issues your business might be facing with inventory management. You may need to outsource returns management, if you do not already do so, to get more time back.
You may need to talk to a supplier if there is a recurring issue with certain items. You might need to hire a larger customer service team to handle customer communication during the process. You may even decide you need to rewrite your returns policy because returns are taking too much of the bottom line away from your eCommerce business.
Returns are inevitable in eCommerce and physical store locations in general. Working with a trusted partner can help you simplify the returns management process, and even get some time back for other aspects of your business. Rakuten Super Logistics, now ShipNetwork simplifies returns with efficient systems and processes and decades of experience with order fulfillment and returns management.
Ensure an exceptional customer experience so you keep that customer despite the returned goods by outsourcing your 3PL needs. This includes easy return management services from companies such as ShipNetwork.
Get started by requesting a quote to learn how our dedicated logistics professionals can help get the orders out the door and back again when needed with industry-leading returns handling services.
The best way to improve your eCommerce return process is by implementing a robust seller protection plan and free return shipping. This will ensure that you're properly protected from liability, and it'll help speed up the delivery time on damaged or defective items while also providing buyers with the peace of mind when they purchase something new!
One of the most important aspects of managing returns is ensuring that they are packaged properly. It's also critical not only for your products but for yourself too! Be sure you have plenty of packaging material in case there’s an issue with what was shipped or if someone doesn't like how something looked when opening it up - this will save both time and money.
On average, the going return rate for eCommerce purchases is between 20-30%.