Best practices in returns management for multichannel sellers
Nobody likes rejection. For online sellers, one of the ultimate forms of rejection is receiving a request for a return.
It’s one thing if someone browses your store then chooses not to buy. But when someone makes a purchase, receives a shipment and then decides to return it, that really stings—and it only becomes harder when you have multiple selling platforms to keep up with.
It’s time to break the negative thinking on returns. No matter if it was caused by a shipping error, a damaged product, or customer dissatisfaction, a return is not a death knell. In fact, studies show that 95 percent of online shoppers who return a product are willing to buy from that seller again. However, there’s a big “if” to that statistic: the return process has to be hassle-free.
I understand the temptation to attempt to minimize returns by burying the return policy deep in the bowels of your website. But what you save on avoiding one or two returns isn’t worth what you lose in a potential lifelong customer.
Instead of trying to hide the policy, let’s focus on how to make the process both painless and positive for your shoppers and for you as a seller.
Minimizing the cost of returns
Returns are costly because you have to pay for them in two ways. First, you lose the sale. Then, processing the return itself costs you both money and time.
The first step to multichannel returns management is to minimize this cost as much as possible.
One thing you can do right off the bat is make sure your SKUs are the same across your channels. We know that different platforms have different requirements when it comes to SKUs, but you should take advantage of some type of internal mapping system to ensure that the SKU of a red shirt on Amazon is as similar as possible to that same red shirt on eBay. That makes processing the return a lot easier for you, since you won’t have to chase down exactly which SKU the customer is talking about.
Inventory management software does a great job of facilitating mapping your SKUs. This will bring all your multichannel SKUs into a single system, from which you can print shipping and return labels, which lowers instances of human error, speeds up returns and keeps your customers happy enough to continue shopping with you.
But all that is about how to process a return once you have it. What are some ways to write an effective returns policy that helps alleviate costs before the return even happens?
Best practices when crafting your returns policy
There are four key aspects to remember when crafting a returns policy. Remember: the goal here is to appeal to your customer and make sure they return to shop from you in the future.
Simplify as much as possible
I once saw a comedy prank show where a retailer promised rebates for people who’d purchased gas. But in order to get the rebate, they had to drop off a form by hand on the top of a mountain. As ridiculous as that sounds, some online sellers try to discourage returns by intentionally making them inconvenient for the buyer. Do that and you’re guaranteed to never have that person purchase from you again. Make returns easy: Provide return instructions in your shipping package. Offer printable labels to customers seeking a return and accept it in any package if you really want to go above and beyond in simplifying returns.
Make it free
Ask yourself how you would feel if you bought an item expecting it to be amazing and then ended up having to return it. Would you expect to have to pay for that? Absolutely not. It’s surprising that it’s so common for online sellers to expect their customers to pay shipping costs for returning an item. For the sake of your future sales, do your best to make returns free. Whether you provide the return label or issue a refund for the shipping costs along with a refund for the item, e-commerce sellers should cover the cost of the return. This keeps customers happy and helps ensure they convert again in the future.
E-commerce is a global exercise. The geographical borders that hold traditional retail don’t apply to online stores. But if you’re going to sell internationally, you have to be prepared to service internationally. That means processing returns from every country in which you sell. But how can you do this in a way that’s inexpensive and fast? You can always eat the entire return and offer a refund without asking the customer to ship the product back. Other options include using an international carrier for all your shipping, paying a global returns manager to handle it for you, or using parcel forwarding in a number of other countries.
Dealing with multichannel returns is not easy, but anything worth the effort rarely is. As you’re optimizing and improving your returns strategy, remember that the ultimate goal should be to facilitate customers returning to your store.
Returns don’t have to be a bad thing. Focus on creating a positive, hassle-free environment and not only will the product return to you, but the customer will, too.