Whenever you sell a product, whether in-person or online, you hope that the last time you see it is when it leaves with the customer. However, sometimes returns are inevitable – a particular product might have been faulty or, in the case of eCommerce, damaged in transit. A customer might have also gotten the wrong order or received it too late and ended up no longer needing it.
No matter the reason, returns aren’t fun for anyone, and they’re a major source of frustration. But just because they’re stressful and frustrating doesn’t mean there aren’t a few tricks to minimize that pain.
In this article, we’ll explore all the pain points associated with eCommerce returns and share some strategies to address them effectively, keeping your customers happy and your products in the condition they expect upon arrival.
The Impact of Returns on eCommerce
On their surface, a product return doesn’t seem like that big a deal. If a purchased item does not meet reasonable expectations, it’s as simple as sending it back for a refund or replacement. But, like all logistics-related, there are many moving parts under the surface to consider.
The most obvious one is the financial cost associated with returns. Packaging, shipping fees, and the cost of labor are already a cost of doing business when you own an eCommerce store. However, these costs effectively triple with returns and offering a replacement: the first set of shipping costs when sending the item out, then absorbing the costs when the customer sends it back plus restocking expenses, then the shipping costs associated with sending a replacement.
Your company might also offer a refund or coupons to win back a customer’s favor, increasing costs further. If the item was damaged in transit, which prompted the return, you’re effectively out two units: a damaged item that might not be fixable and its replacement. And this is just one scenario for one order. Since this problem compounds when dealing with multiple returns, you can see how time, money, and labor costs can start to mount quickly.
Of course, this is also assuming the returns are genuine. There are plenty of people who love to take advantage of generous return policies, abusing them and making fraudulent claims to get an extra product for free.
Returns can also affect your business’s cash flow in indirect ways. For instance, a high frequency of returns (especially multiple returns from single customers) can affect customer retention and loyalty. While having an easy, positive return process is associated with high customer satisfaction, the opposite is true; handling returns poorly or having a process that does nothing to address a customer’s inconvenience will push them away.
The same is true when it comes to brand perception. If your company handles its returns well – paying for customers to ship the faulty product back quickly, offer a refund, and provide tracking so they know exactly how the process is progressing – this can be a boon for your brand’s marketing. But again, having a bad return process will damage your reputation as uncaring and inferior.
Regardless, both reactions are catalyzed by word-of-mouth. If a customer is super happy with how you handle problems and you exceed their expectations, you’ve turned a stressful experience into one they’re glad to talk about with their friends, showing how you cared and wanted to make things right. Conversely, if a customer is disappointed or angry with how they were treated, they’ll be sure to tell everyone they know, both online and off.
Finally, if your company values environmental sustainability, a commitment to a good return policy aligns with those values. As mentioned, issuing a replacement triples the costs of that order’s shipping – that also includes fuel used and carbon emissions produced. If the item is damaged beyond repair, that also contributes to waste.
So what makes for a good return policy anyway? Moreover, how do you do right by your customers without opening yourself up to fraud and abuse? Here are four strategies you can start with to build out your eCommerce return policy.
Implement an Easy and Transparent Returns Policy
The first strategy is one of the easiest: be honest, clear, and straightforward with your customers, including in the return policy. By being transparent, you’re setting up expectations for your customers so that when they do need help, they know exactly how the process works.
Even if the process works well, a customer may become frustrated if it’s not easy to understand. Clear communication, both in the policy itself as well as any correspondence during the process, is important to make sure your customers remain happy.
A few ways to implement are:
- Include information about the return policy at multiple points in the customer’s buying journey, such as on product pages, at checkouts, and in email confirmations.
- Offer options such as in-store returns (if you have a physical store), extended return windows during holidays, and free return shipping and packaging.
- Making sure the return policy is easy to understand. Avoid using jargon or vague terms that may confuse or further frustrate the customer.
Ensure Quality Control and Accurate Product Descriptions
Another strategy is to do whatever you can to minimize returns from happening in the first place. Again, clear communication is important in every aspect of your business. This includes having accurate product descriptions and images that help meet customer expectations and reduce returns.
On the backend, ensure the products you’re selling are quality. Products made with inferior parts or fragile items shipped haphazardly risk customer disappointment and potential damage in transit, both resulting in more returns. Instead, be mindful of what you’re selling and how you’re shipping it out. As far as shipping goes, be sure to choose the right packaging for whatever you’re shipping and be mindful of handling to minimize the risk of damage.
Leverage Technology for Efficient Returns Management
You don’t need to be a tech expert to use the best innovations to manage returns. There are plenty of NoCode and LowCode solutions that make the entire eCommerce process simple for both your business and your customers.
By automating the return process (for instance, auto-accepting claims under a certain dollar amount) where you can while making it more efficient for your human workers is a net benefit for everyone involved: the customer can easily start and track the process, your customer service team can manage each case effectively, and your fulfillment crew can process the returns quickly and accurately.
Even if you use a third-party logistics service to manage your inventory, you can still integrate these systems with your storefront to make the entire process seamless. In turn, this saves you and your customers headaches and money.
Provide Excellent Customer Service
With so much technology, the temptation to automate as much as possible can sometimes be overwhelming. However, there are some things that shouldn’t be automated, and that includes a great deal of customer service interactions. Certain elements of customer service can be automated. Like the example above, certain orders under a minimum value threshold can automatically processed so that your team can focus on the larger returns. But even then, sending out a brief message checking in with the customer can go a long way in reminding them that the company they’ve chosen to do business with is still filled with other human beings.
Positive customer service experiences can net many benefits including word-of-mouth marketing, social proof, and return business. Moreover, by building a relationship with your customers, their feedback and purchase history can yield valuable data you can use to better serve them in the form of discounts, improvements, or useful content to show them how they can use the products they buy better.
But one of the best factors of high-quality customer service is that an experienced team can turn a painful, stressful experience into a positive one. Mistakes are inevitable, but providing customers care and useful solutions rarely happens in a world that increasingly feels cold and corporate. With that in mind, find ways to build connections with your customers and prove you care and want to help them – and do so genuinely.
Improve Your Order Return Processes with UCanTrade
Dealing with eCommerce returns can be a major headache, but they don’t have to be. By taking the time to revamp your return policy and the processes that support it, you can make a positive impact on your customers from a potentially negative experience – all while saving time, money, and stress while doing so.
Interested in getting your eCommerce business to the next level? Reach out to us today to learn more about how the experts at UCanTrade can help.