How to avoid returns running you ragged

With the next few months of peak in mind, Rick Kirk, sales director at B2C Europe, shares his thoughts on how retailers can make sure returns don’t come back to bite them:

How to avoid returns running you ragged during peak and beyond

We are now on the final stretch to Black Friday, soon there’ll be Christmas (and the aftermath) and then we’ll simply have the rest of the year to worry about…

Retailers are currently preparing for a rush on purchases and customers are on the lookout for the best deals during peak. However, where sales come, more often than not, returns follow. Sales and discounts in particular often mean that shoppers will purchase the same product in different sizes, for example, making returns inevitable. Last year, our own stats highlighted that 44 per cent of all returns for the year were made between November 2015 to January 2016 – peak time.

The movement of stock in and out of the warehouse is difficult to keep track of at the best of times, but when a flurry of orders come in, it can be easy to make mistakes. So how can retailers reduce the errors made and ensure returns are processed correctly and quickly?

Start at the source: reduce mistakes in the warehouse

During busy periods, many online retailers hire external agencies to help with the influx of orders. While the additional manpower is an asset, it means that a large number of employees may not be familiar with the working environment or processes. This means mistakes can be made and customers can easily receive the wrong items – equalling more returns.

Strict training procedures can help to prepare every employee before a rush hits. Mistakes can be reduced even further by making every employee accountable for their orders, so that if the wrong item was sent, the retailer can trace who was responsible.

Think about the returns process: make it simple

During peak for example, with Black Friday taking place less than a month before Christmas, it is likely that shoppers will be purchasing items in the sale as gifts. If they then need to return an order, the customer will require the refund to be processed quickly so they can make a new purchase in time to gift it on the day.

But the same goes at any time of year from the consumer’s perspective – whether they have an important occasion to attend or not, customers expect their money to be returned to them as quickly as possible. It generally pays in the long run for retailers too to nurture loyalty.

In order to make the returns process run as smoothly and efficiently as possible, for both the warehouse and the consumer, it helps to simplify the process. By providing a label, or allowing the customer to print off their own returns label, for instance, time is saved for both parties.

Consumers also want options for their returns; some customers might want to wait home for a courier, while others would prefer to drop it off at a local shop. Ultimately, more options mean the consumer can return the item at their quickest convenience and get the refund ball rolling.

When it comes to returns make it local

For online retailers that sell to international customers, a local returns address should be provided, making the process cheaper for everyone as there’s no need for either party to pay the expensive courier fees.

The importance of providing a local returns address is actually increasing in importance as, from the 15th November this year, Amazon will be making it compulsory for its sellers to provide a local returns address to customers. If sellers are found to not be complying with these regulations, Amazon will block their account.

Online retailers can work with a delivery supplier that has a physical presence in multiple countries, or various international partnerships, to offer a local returns address across different regions.

As retailers are busy preparing for a hectic few months ahead, it’s important to consider the entire sales process – which goes all the way to returns. Ultimately, organisation and planning will go a long way to ensuring success and satisfied customers during peak and beyond.