At last week’s Operations Summit in Indianapolis, a panel of operations directors shared their returns management experiences.
Ellen Shannon, Chief Content Director & Publisher of Multichannel Merchant moderated the session and shared the challenges that the industry faces in handling returns; costs, physical space, time to get the product back in inventory, keeping the customer happy, and personnel and technology needed to manage the process.
The panel all agreed that everyone needs to have a clearly written, and easily available, returns policy. However, they also admitted that they will bend the policies for their best customers, especially if there is no history of many returns. Some businesses, based on their product line and customer make-up have fewer returns problems than others. Eric Roberson, Director, Operations of Title Nine, shared that he doesn’t run into many unreasonable returns requests from his client base. Others in the audience shared different experiences.
Panel member, Patrick Allard, Director of Business Development for Newgistics, shared the importance of proactive communications with customers throughout the returns process. Customers want to hear when you’ve received their return, when you’ve shipped their replacement or credited their account, and everything inbetween. He pointed out that proactive communications helps retain the customer.
There were many questions from the audience around the complications cased by newer industry trends – how to deal with returns of so many drop shipped items, international returns, and of course, omnichannel returns.
Ryan Culver, Director, Domestic Logistics for OSP Group, led a discussion about the difficulties and expense of international returns. There was unanimous agreement that it’s important to understand the cultures and laws that effect returns handling in all the countries that you sell to. Some countries have a much higher returns rate than we are used to here in the states.
Jason Seemann, Director of Operations and Fulfillment of Express, spoke about the need to monitor returns fraud, especially in the area of older merchandise being returned with new tags. The panel all had returns fraud monitoring processes in place.
The entire panel seemed to agree that in most cases, companies should ask consumers to incur some of the shipping charges for the returns process. This is especially important to apparel merchants, who have a much higher return rate than most merchants.