January 'Tis the Season for Retail Returns

     

Unhappy Returns

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If you’re like most of us, you’re still picking pine needles out of the corners of your family room (if you’ve even taken down your tree, that is), scraping dripped candle wax off your furniture, and you have at least one shopping bag filled with presents to return that weren’t quite right.

Maybe you thought you ordered Women’s size 8 slippers for your 16-year old daughter, but you actually received Men’s size 11. And since you ordered online, now you have to package it up, print out a label, call UPS, etc., etc. Not that I’d know anything about that sort of mistake…

Chances are, your customers are also focused on returns during this post-holiday week. Are you set up to provide them with the seamless return experience they expect? Are you prepared to face the financial impact of fraudulent returns, the loss of revenue from discounting returned merchandise, and the impact on your logistics workload? Are you taking full advantage of the opportunities presented by these additional customer interactions?

 

Online Trends Impact Returns

Bloomberg News recently examined this issue, determining that the surge in online purchases this holiday season will result in a significant boost in retailers’ logistics expenses as more shoppers return merchandise online. According to Customer Growth Partners research cited in an Internet Retailer article, consumers are expected to return $62 million in goods purchased in November and December, including a staggering 30% of all clothes and shoes (and slippers) purchased online. By the end of this first week of January, UPS expects to deliver more than 5 million packages with returned merchandise back to US retailers—500,000 more than last year (Source: MarketWatch, Return To Sender: UPS Wraps Up Holiday Shopping Season With Easier Returns, January 5, 2016).

Since online shopping isn’t going anywhere, this uptick in returns will, most likely, continue—until virtual reality technology allows us to measure the fit of clothes and shoes for all our gift recipients, that is. In the meantime, though, this trend also represents an opportunity for retailers. According to The UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper™, 43% of US consumers who have returned an item by shipping it back to the retailer made a new online purchase during that return process.

 

Technology to the Rescue

Consumers today are not automatically brand loyal. They demand a great deal from retailers—not just when they are researching and buying a product, but when they are returning it, as well, But if you get it right, you are rewarded with their repeat business and their advocacy on your behalf. The stakes are high and you’re only as good as your last customer interaction which ramps up the demands that must be met to create an optimal customer experience, including:

  • An easy, user-friendly order platform that allows customers to purchase products where and when they want
  • Flawless order management and fulfillment including immediate confirmations and regular (and mobile) communication about order status
  • Visibility and synchronicity of your inventory across stores, warehouses, distributors, shippers and other partners to fulfill each line item of an order as efficiently as possible
  • The ability to ship complete orders at the right time at the best possible price (or better yet, free)
  • Scheduling and coordinating of related services
  • The ability to easily return or exchange a product via the customer’s preferred method

Ecommerce and order management solutions often address the first five bullets on this list but, without addressing service scheduling, returns, repairs, and exchanges.  It's like going to Seattle without an umbrella. It’s going to rain and there will be returns.

The right reverse logistics or returns management solution can help to improve returns management processes, reduce costs, and improve customer satisfaction by:

  • automating return authorization processes
  • tracking exchanges and monitoring repairs
  • enabling customers to buy online and return to store
  • connecting the sales order with the return or reapair process for a more complete customer view and better customer service
  • analyzing return rates by product or customer to help address problem areas

Returns management technologies can help provide visibility and transparency of the entire return and exchange process, leverage returned items as an additional, immediate source of supply, and transform what could be seen as a misstep into another opportunity for a positive customer interaction.

How is your company managing returns today?  What processes could be improved to enhance the customer experience around returns?  Do your current ecommerce and order management systems support or facilitate these processes?  

Learn more about areas of opportunity in the returns process and the capabilities available through a returns management solution. Also, we invite you to check out the FitForCommerce report—"Surviving Omnichannel Order Complexities"—to learn about addressing a wide variety of omnichannel order management and fulfillment issues, from online shopping through the returns process. 

  Fit For Commerce and Lightwell - Surviving Omnichannel Order Compleixities