dealing with ecommerce returns

While returns are an inevitable part of ecommerce, businesses can take steps to minimize the impact it has on operations and on your bottom line. 30% of all online purchases are returned, compared to 8% from brick-and-mortar stores. As an ecommerce business, returns are part of doing business and an essential part of your customer’s experience with your brand.

While dealing with returns can sound daunting, it can be turned into an opportunity for you to contact your customers, examine your product offering, and improve your sales funnel. Consider these 6 tactics to help you optimize the return process.


Develop a clear return policy

Keep it simple, clear, and explicit to ensure that everyone understands them. Make sure that potential customers can easily find the return policy.  Keep in mind:

  • Outline expectations on what customers can expect from returns. Figure out what works best for your business and customer base.
  • Specify the return procedure. Who needs to pay, return window, packaging etc.
  • Educate your team to make sure that everyone can navigate the process quickly and effectively.
  • Be fair, if you’ve made a mistake make it right regardless of the official policy.


Use shipping technology to your advantage

Create a streamlined return experience for your customer using shipping technology.

    • Scan-based return labels are shipping labels that you can include right in the box. You won’t get charged unless the label is used.
    • Leverage shipment-tracking data to notify customers that their returns arrived safely and trigger their refund. This can reduce anxiety for customers and reduce questions such as “where’s my refund” from your support inbox.


Package smart

Remember that even if your customer returns an item, it doesn’t mean they won’t purchase again (especially if they’ve had a good experience with your brand). Consider inserting thoughtful and cost effective package inserts to increase loyalty. For instance:

      • Discount offers
      • Product samples
      • Product review requests
      • Thank-you notes

Beyond helping customers with the shipping process, also consider packaging such as poly mailers with double tape strips so customers don’t have to scrounge around for packaging at home. Proper shipping packaging can protect returns from getting damaged as well.


Understand what’s being returned and why

If a customer has already decided to return an item, make sure they have ample opportunity to provide their feedback. There are often return patterns such as:

      • Incorrect product or size ordered
      • Product didn’t match website description
      • Company shipped incorrect product

Understanding what products are being returned and why they were being sent back can help you improve your website and processes to reduce the number of returns.


Weed out bad customers

This is by far the most important part of optimizing your return process. While return policies should be easy for your best customers, it should also be used as a method to keep the bad ones from constantly buying then returning.

Look at the customers who are returning the most to see if they have similarities. Perhaps they’re all coming from the same marketing campaign or channel. Maybe their expectations about the product is not inline, or there’s a mismatch in product-market fit.


There are always exceptions

There are always exceptions that require extra attention. If you’re dealing with international orders, selling on marketplaces, or using a dropshipper, take another look at how you handle returns for those customers. It’s okay to have different policies for each, so long as you outline them clearly in your return policy.

Whether it’s understanding your SKUs, your customers, or delivering an exceptional experience to gain a return purchase in the future, make sure that returns are working for you. Ecommerce businesses invest thousands of hours and dollars to optimize their selling experience, but completely miss the return experience. Use these 6 steps to address you return process to make it your competitive advantage.


About the Author: This guest post was written by Laura Behrens Wu, co-founder and CEO of Shippo. Laura Behrens Wu is a co-founder and the CEO of Shippo, an enterprise shipping platform for marketplaces, warehouses, and ecommerce businesses. Laura co-founded Shippo after personally experiencing the obstacles businesses face when setting up shipping operations for her own ecommerce business. Businesses are able to instantly access multiple shipping carriers for real-time rates, shipping labels, international paperwork, package tracking, and return logistics.

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