How to Improve Your Online Returns Process

If you want to be successful selling online, then you must have a plan for how you handle returns. With analysts suggesting that nearly one-third of online purchases are returned, dealing with returns is inevitable for online sellers. 

When left unmanaged, returns can negatively impact your bottom line and customer satisfaction ratings. Today’s consumers are looking for free and convenient return options. For retailers though, managing an effective returns process isn’t a simple task. That’s why it’s important to make returns management a top business priority. Take a look at these main ways to improve your current processes. 

Why Online Returns Management is a Big Deal

Customers notice who has the best returns process, and they’ll spend their money with those who do. In fact, 74% of consumers are likely to switch retailers due to poor online returns management. Retailers can no longer afford to treat returns as an afterthought for their business. 

Returns management goes beyond providing a good customer experience, whether it’s a well-written policy or pre-printed shipping labels. In addition to these basic asks, customers also demand free shipping and options for how they return packages. 60% of shoppers say free returns shipping is a top element for a best returns experience. The challenge for retailers is managing returns handling costs without eroding their profitability. It’s a race to the bottom for retailers who must comply with customer demands for low prices, free and fast shipping, attractive packaging, and free returns. 

Improving your returns process is important for both your bottom line and customer loyalty. It’s an opportunity to retain customer loyalty. 95% of shoppers will make another purchase if the return experience is positive

What to Focus On for Online Returns Management 

There are a few key areas to focus on when looking to improve your online returns management. 

Update Your Return Policy

When’s the last time you reviewed your return policy? If it’s been awhile, your first step as a retailer should be to review and update your return policy online. 

A good online policy is easy to find and understand. Best practices include linking to your return policy from your homepage, product pages, and checkout pages. Customers should be able to review your policy before they make a purchase. This helps build trust before they purchase. 

A well-written return policy includes clear instructions and terms. Consider your returns cost, timeframes, and specifications around the state of goods returned. Be concise about what your offer is. It not only helps your customer understand your terms are, but also makes it easier for internal staff to enforce your return rules. While returns are essential to a good customer experience, you don’t want to be paying for returns that don’t meet your requirements. Learn more about how to write a good return policy.

An inconvenient returns policy deters 80% of shoppers. So, what are online shoppers looking for?

Free Returns

It’s no surprise that online shoppers want free returns. Even when offering free returns, make sure you consider allowed timeframes. I’ve recently seen a retailer offer free shipping, if package is postmarked within 10 days of their received date. Since most customers are returning items that they ordered in multiple sizes, it’s important to get this inventory back as soon as possible. 

Buy Online, Return In-Store

Another great way to offer free return shipping is to leverage brick-and-mortar locations if you have them. In a 2018 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper Survey, 75% of online shoppers have shipped items back to the retailer and 58% prefer to return items to a physical store.

Buy Online, Return In-Store (BORIS) programs are also a great opportunity to generate foot traffic. Once in store, customers making returns are more likely to make another purchase. If offering this service, make sure your return counter is easy to find and an overall quick process. 

Pre-printed Return Labels 

Another convenience shoppers are looking for are pre-printed return labels and provided boxes. Your returns process should be as simple as possible for your customers. It doesn’t get much easier than attaching a label to a provided box then dropping it off at your nearest location. 

Pre-printed labels are also a great way to protect yourself against fraud. They ensure customers are returning the right items and in the right amounts since the label includes SKU items, quantities and more. 

Invest in Returns Management Technology 

Retailers must think about both the customer-facing aspects of their returns and the behind-the-scenes operations that make it all possible. Many sellers are transferring data between multiple systems like their eCommerce platform, ERP or POS software to initiate and complete order fulfillment and thei returns process. 

When first starting out, many sellers turn to manual data entry to move returns info from their eCommerce platform to their ERP or POS for order and returns processing. Manual data entry is slow and prone to human errors, which can result in shipping the wrong item initiating the need to return it. It can also affect how quickly you can provide refunds (for the right amount too).  

One way to automate your order fulfillment and returns process is to integrate your retail systems. This ensures refunds are issued in a timely and correct manner. It can also help support complex returns requirements like partial returns for a single online order.

Preventing Returns

An often-forgotten way to combat online returns is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Retailers should survey and analyze customers for why they’re making a return. Is the quality different than expected? Is fit often wrong? Are customers ordering multiple sizes or colors? 

Shoppers return products for all sorts of reasons. As a retailer though, you can help prevent returns due to customers not receiving an item as expected. You can overcome this by providing high-quality product information that includes high-resolution images, size charts, detailed material information, customer generated photos, detailed reviews and more. When your customer gets your product in their hands, it should be exactly what they were expecting. 

Returns Aren’t Going Away 

Online sellers don’t have much choice when it comes to improving their returns process. Sellers who don’t make it a top priority will suffer the consequences like losing control of costs or losing customers. Luckily, focusing on just a few key areas like those above can make a significant impact in improving your current processes!

About nChannel: nChannel empowers retailers, wholesalers and technologists with integration tools to sync data and automate processes between their eCommerce, ERP, POS and 3PL systems from inventory synchronization and order fulfillment to supply chain management.

Jillian Hufford
Jillian Hufford joined nChannel as their Marketing Analyst. Using both her writing and analytic skills, she assists the Marketing and Sales teams. Jillian performs competitor market research, provides analysis of key sales metrics, and writes informative posts on multichannel commerce trends.