How to Improve Your Returns Management Process
When was the last time you evaluated the efficacy of your returns process? If you can scarcely remember, consider this guide a gentle reminder.
Now, more than ever, efficient, fast, and free returns matter. Customers demand transparent, easy and no-quibble returns from most – if not all – web stores, so you need to ensure this is front and centre of your ecommerce offering.
If you’re not convinced your current returns infrastructure is up to the task, this guide can help. In it, we cover the importance of maintaining the right returns management process, as well as practical tips on refining your own.
- Why Your Returns Process Matters
- What Are Controllable Returns and How Can You Reduce Them?
- How to Optimise Your Returns Process to Maintain Profitability
It’s easy to see customer returns as exclusively negative. After all, they can cut into profits, use valuable resources, and foster customer dissatisfaction.
But that’s not the whole story. Because while you should do what you can to reduce returns, there are opportunities to develop your service and make commercial gains by improving your returns management process.
Without an effective process in place, handling customer returns can be a costly and wasteful endeavour. Remember, you need to factor in the lost revenue, the cost of returns shipment, storage and disposal of unwanted items, and the potential impact of losing a customer or being served a negative review.
By refining your customer returns process, however, you can mitigate many of these negatives, while making your brand a more attractive proposition for prospective new customers.
From Amazon to ASOS, if there’s one thing the ecommerce giants do well, it’s customer returns. And this is no accident; big-name brands understand that by offering a flexible, easy, and no-quibble returns policy, this works to maintain profitability and revenue, while upholding customer advocacy and repeat purchases.
So, how do you go about improving your returns process? And what aspects of your current service should you pay attention to? Read on below for some essential tips and advice.
Controllable returns refer to instances in which a customer returns an item because of errors or oversights made by the seller. Think of them like an unforced error in tennis; they’re avoidable problems that your business should look to limit when refining its returns management process.
What constitutes a controllable return? Say, for example, a customer has bought an item from your website but is returning it because it arrived damaged. This is a controllable return since the packaging it was shipped in may not have offered adequate protection.
Another example of a controllable return is when a customer has bought an item but is returning it due to a lack of information on the product page. Some essential details may have missing from the specification, and so they’ve requested a refund.
Essentially, controllable returns are avoidable issues that can end up costing your business money. On the flipside, uncontrollable returns are those out of your control – whether that be a customer ordering the wrong size or simply changing their mind.
Not only are controllable returns a drain on your cash flow and resources, but they’re also among the most damaging, since customers may lose trust in or feel dissatisfied with the service they’ve received. That’s why it’s essential that you do everything you can to reduce instances of controllable returns to maintain profitability and customer advocacy.
While preventing all controllable returns is impossible, there are practical steps you can take to reduce them, including:
- Providing complete specification information on product pages, down to the smallest details. The more information you provide, the more assurance this gives the customer, and the less chance they’ll have of returning the item. This also applies to product images. Ensure you have a range of high-quality product images assigned to each product so the customer has a true appreciation of the look, feel and quality of the item.
- Testing products intensively to ensure they meet quality standards, and ensuring that sizing information is as accurate as possible (this is particularly important for clothing retailers).
- Working with reliable suppliers who themselves invest in and take time to QA products and materials before they’re shipped to you. They may also have a library of product images that you can access.
- Ensuring that logistics and warehousing teams fulfil orders quickly and with maximum care taken to ensure no products arrive damaged or in a lesser condition.
- Improving shipping cartons and packaging to maximise product protection and avoid breakages. You can never underinvest in quality packaging, particularly if it saves on excess controllable returns.
- Accurate order tracking and delivery information, so that customers receive items within the designated timeframe. This is hugely important in maintaining trust and expected service levels.
If your business has recently invested in an ecommerce solution, optimising your returns process ought to form a part of your ongoing web-sales strategy. Because without an adequate returns management infrastructure in place, you risk reduced profitability, poor service levels, and an increase in negative reviews.
Below, we list some of the most effective ways to bolster your returns management process.
Invest in an Improved Inventory Management System or ERP Solution
A fully integrated inventory management or ERP system can enhance all aspects of your ecommerce operations, improving time to fulfilment and making it easier to track stock, orders and returns. With a modern, integrated solution in place, you’ll enjoy a complete overview of your order fulfilment cycle – ensuring optimal delivery and logistics, and speedy and efficient returns.
Not only is inventory management essential for maintaining stock and ensuring timely fulfilment, but it can make handling returns much more efficient. For example, with the right system in place, you can process returns and have them back on sale in a fraction of the time compared to manual logistics – so you can protect profitability more readily.
Improve Customer Service
Customer returns aren’t innately damaging. However, it’s vital that the customer service you offer as part of a returns request is above par, with the right level of attentiveness and responsiveness.
The more efficiently you deal with returns through customer service channels, the greater the chances that a customer will buy from you again in the future. Taking the time to deal with dissatisfied customers properly can build trust, loyalty, and advocacy, encouraging repeat custom while mitigating the risk of negative reviews.
What’s more, collecting feedback at the customer service level can be a helpful way to refine and improve your service. Ask customers how they feel about the service they’ve received, and action any pain points with practical, positive change.
Develop a Clear, Hassle-Free Returns Policy
Customers demand simple, no-quibble returns, and most also expect this for free. The right returns process can make the difference between winning a sale or not, and with competition fiercer than ever, you can’t afford not to provide a stellar returns offering.
In general, a good returns policy should:
- Set out a time frame in which returns can be made
- Define the expected condition of returns (for example, products need to be in their original packaging, etc.)
- List any costs associated with returning an item, or make clear that returns are free
- Make clear any returns limitations, e.g., whether a customer can receive a full refund, make an exchange, or is entitled to store credit only
When you’ve created a returns policy, you need to make sure it’s visible on your website. As well as a standalone returns information page including FAQs, it’s worth advertising your returns process on individual product pages, and also at checkout. This emphasises your transparent approach to returns, giving customers the assurance they need to hit that ‘buy’ button with confidence.
From refining your returns management process to bolstering your supply chain infrastructure, there are dozens of ways to optimise profitability and enhance your operations. At Intact, we deliver next-gen business management software and ERP solutions designed to help you elevate your business, from returns to stock control and everything in between. For more information, visit the homepage or get in touch today.