Much has been written about omnichannel strategy from the perspective of driving engagement and conversions. However returns processing is one aspect of the shopping journey that is an extremely important part of the customer experience yet is often glossed over.
Many retailers understandably view returns as cost centers and conversions as profit centers, and we all know the lackluster attention cost centers often receive. However, returns comprise a large component of service level and that means they are key to cultivating loyalty.
Returns deserve time in the omnichannel conversation because whether retailers like it or not, customer expectations on return procedures have kept pace with their evolving expectations for the shopping experience. Just as they expect consistency across every touchpoint in the purchase journey – even when they span multiple channels – they also expect it in returns.
Increased commerce options and social sharing has shifted power almost entirely from retailers to consumers. So it goes without saying that a failure at any touchpoint can easily result in a lost customer. Service recovery is most important at the return level because those customers are already dissatisfied. The return process is often the last chance a retailer has to recover patronage.
The same advances in retail management software that have enabled omnichannel shopping efficiencies extend those capabilities to reverse logistics. The first step to successful returns management is implementing a platform that can perform the following steps. Assuming that functionality is present, these tips will help preserve customer loyalty while also protecting your bottom line.
Manage returns against purchases
Handling returns as separate transactions from purchases is the worst thing a retailer can do to both customer-facing service levels and bookkeeping. When a return enters the system, it should provide full visibility to the original transaction. Returns often do not occur in the same channel as the original sale, but consumers expect retailers to have immediate access to every transaction regardless of where it originated. Further, you should be able to locate the original transaction by searching the customer name or using other identifying data as many consumers don’t keep receipts.
Processing returns against original purchase transactions is a convenience for customers, but it also saves time and money for retailers. It ensures that refunds or store credits are issued for the correct original price paid, and prevents “over returning,” when consumers attempt to return more items than they bought.
Mine return data
Return data contains a wealth of business intelligence. Tracking items that are heavily returned is nothing new, but tracking by channel can help identify problems. If certain items sold via ecommerce are returned more often than the same item purchased in store, it may indicate a problem with the way it’s presented on your site. Or it may mean the item is not being packaged properly and is getting damaged during shipping. It might even indicate buyer’s remorse is high on the item. Robust return reporting raises red flags and draws attention to problematic items.
This data can also identify problematic customers. While returns are a normal part of commerce, most retailers face “serial returners” at some point. These customers can cost significant money, and return reporting capabilities help discover customers that are abusing return policies. It can also flag accounts so that future returns from them can be denied.
Return forms simplify ecommerce returns
While ecommerce has matured, retail still has not fully solved the problem of consumer fear of online purchase dissatisfaction and inability to easily return it. When ecommerce orders come with a pre-printed return form that has ship to and return addresses, this eases those fears. It’s even better when the return form is printed right on the packing slip.
Return forms reduce the time and labor involved in processing. Bar codes printed on the forms let staff call up the original transactions instantly with a scanner, and pre-printed labels prevent package misdirects due to customer error or ambiguous handwriting. Most importantly, customers are more likely to become repeat buyers when they feel confident that the return process is easy should they ever need it again.
Streamlined return processing benefits both retailers and customers, and the right software makes it easy to implement. The ROI from providing an overall shopping environment – including returns – in which customers feel protected and covered are massive dividends in loyalty and goodwill.
Zeke Hamdani is director of web services for Celerant Technology