U.S. online retail sales are projected to reach $304 billion this year, up 15 percent from 2013. It’s a huge jump, but not one that should really surprise us. eCommerce is a great solution for consumers looking for niche products, those who want to avoid the hassle of visiting a physical store and those purchasing gifts.
More online sales mean more online returns—something that has been historically clunky and time-consuming for consumers. Without the face-to-face interaction that the brick-and-mortar experience provides, the purchase and return cycle are the most interaction between customers and online brands. Reverse logistics is the tipping point in a customer experience with a brand in that many customers use that experience to decide if they’ll purchase from that brand again. For this reason, retailers should strive to make the return process as seamless as the purchase cycle. Here are four steps to accomplish that:
- Create a Customer-Friendly Return Policy. This is critical to creating a seamless customer experience because it sets the return process up for success. In general, the simpler the policy, the better. A standard 30-day return for any reason policy is great for customers because it is clear and gives them time to act. It’s also important to note that the return policy should align with the brand image. For example, the return policy for a luxury brand should be more comprehensive and flexible than one for a discount retailer.
- Include Prepaid Return Labels. These should be included in all outbound packages because it streamlines the return process on both the consumer and warehouse end. For customers, it eliminates the step of securing and paying for a return label. On the backend, it makes the return verification process much simpler and starts the process for determining when products are available for resale.
- Install Multichannel Capabilities. If you sell in more than one channel, you should accept returns in more than one. Operating in multiple channels is more complicated for businesses. But the process is seamless for customers if businesses have the infrastructure to support the cross-channel experience. For example, customers should be able to buy online and return in-store. While this is an important step year-round, it’s particularly important during peak seasons like the holidays and major sales. Accelerated sales can often slow down reverse logistics, but that can be avoided with a multichannel plan.
- Communicate with Your Logistics Partner. This point cannot be stressed enough, particularly when operating in multiple channels. Without constant communication between retailers and warehouses, the customer experience suffers. Not only should the warehouse promptly verify and process returns, but its logistics team should communicate this in a customer-facing system. Once again, credits or exchanges should be issued quickly and in a manner that matches brand expectations.
Image courtesy of cooldesign, FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Maria Haggerty is co-founder and CEO of third-party logistics firm Dotcom Distribution.