Your return software (much like your return process as a whole) should be straightforward. The technology should be easy for customers to use and easy for your staff to manage. But most importantly, it should make it easy to capture (or recapture) sources of revenue that would otherwise be lost.
Unfortunately, many ecommerce businesses don’t spend as much time as they should thinking about their return technology and process, leading to the proliferation of:
If you're shopping around for a new return solution, make sure the one you choose will help you cut costs, control the end-to-end customer experience, and bring in additional revenue with ease.
The three most important things you should consider as you begin researching new returns solutions are:
When evaluating a return solution, you need to focus on measurable cost savings before anything else. To that end, focus on how much of your existing return process can be automated through a given solution. Automation is the easiest way for most ecommerce sellers to save time and money—it encourages return policy compliance, eliminates the need for customer care teams to send confirmation emails, automatically records return reasons, and more. Here are the top things to pay attention to when examining measurable cost savings.
How easy is it to find your return policy? Is it available in multiple places?
How clear are the terms of your return policy—are you keeping things as straightforward as possible?
How intuitive is your return portal?
These are just some of the questions you should ask yourself as you evaluate the entry to your return process. Your answers will determine how effective you are at transforming returns from a cost center into a revenue driver.
For example, return policies that are easy to find and understand lead to fewer inquiries to your customer support team, which lowers your operating expenses. When customers can quickly access and navigate through your returns portal, it reduces the time it takes to get inventory back in-stock and ready for resale, helping you recapture revenue.
Smart return processing is all about offering your customers a more personalized and efficient returns experience by tapping into the combined power of machine learning and automation. Doing so increases loyalty while both reducing operational costs and the risk of any negative reviews or complaints from shoppers. If the return platform you’re considering is smart enough, it should be able to prevent ineligible returns, conduct exchanges, offer store credit, and much more. Here are some of the top features and functions to look out for.
Blocking of ineligible returns
Look for a solution where a customer is immediately stopped from returning ineligible items, from final sale purchases to products that are outside of their return window.
Enforcement of business rules
This is especially helpful if you sell any products where returns are rarely resold and generally thrown away (e.g., meal kits, cosmetics, etc.). If a return is going to be trashed by your company, your return solution should automatically tell the customer to keep the item, helping you avoid return shipping, processing, or disposal fees.
A smart returns solution helps you save the sale and keep earned revenue on the books by automatically trying to convert refund-seeking returners into exchangers.
Dynamic label generation
Many retailers include a return label in outbound shipments, but considering that ecommerce return rates are right around 20%, roughly four out of five return labels don’t get used. To reduce your operating expenses (and help the environment by saving paper and ink) choose a return solution that offers dynamic label generation for eligible items.
Offer store credit or a gift card
If you can’t get returners to do an exchange, getting them to accept store credit or a gift card is the next best thing. However, not all return platforms are set up to accommodate the provision of store credit or a gift card so, when you’re evaluating systems, make sure you find one that supports this offering.
When implementing a new return process or platform, your goal is twofold:
Therefore, look for a solution that comes with a self-service return portal so customers can help themselves. Here are some of the other considerations to keep in mind when evaluating returns platforms and their self-service portals.
Convenience and choice
Shoppers value convenience and choice, so it’s important to pay attention to what kind of return options can be offered in the self-service portal. Does it let shoppers easily exchange purchases or accept their refund in the form of store credit? Will it provide services that simplify the return experience such as printerless returns, scheduled drop off, or home pickup?
In a world where flexibility and choice have never been more important, offering a wide array of options to shoppers stepping into your return experience for the first time can be an easy way to secure long-term loyalty which drives lifetime value.
Expectation setting resources
Unmet expectations lead to customer frustration and disappointment. Considering people are more likely to remember a negative experience than a positive one, leaving your customers feeling frustrated or disappointed with your return process fuels churn.
This is why it’s so important for your returns solution to aid in the expectation setting process—if you can set and manage expectations from the start, you reduce the long-term likelihood of returns being a cost center.
Scrutinize how you approach refunds, which are generally the thing consumers are most concerned with. Think about how you can use tracking and notification features within a return solution to keep shoppers in lockstep with their refund status.
Overall, managing return expectations is critical to delivering the kind of exceptional customer experience that keeps shoppers coming back. If you can learn to master expectation setting, you can mitigate negative return experiences, improve customer satisfaction, and create the long-term customer bonds that drive growth and success.
Return data and insights are invaluable—they enable you to shine a light on inefficient processes, product deficiencies, and the incremental costs associated with both. Therefore, the returns solution you’re considering needs to provide reporting, come with copious integrations, and provide a feedback module.
Managing the input and output of your inventory is essential for:
But to manage that input and output, you need returns data to make the adjustments that allow you to maximize revenue recapture while keeping costs as low as possible. Return data helps you answer critical questions such as:
The answers to these two questions alone can be used to tweak and optimize your product controls, reducing expenses and improving revenue. Some of the things you’ll want to ensure your new returns solution includes are…
Reason codes allow you to understand why a product is coming back before it ever reaches your warehouse, enabling you to tackle any widespread problems with greater impact. For example, the reason codes might tell you that your product pages are inaccurate and in need of updating; or that your manufacturers need to modify their sizing to reflect customer expectations; or that your shipping teams need to use different packing materials to better protect the products in-transit.
Robust return solutions provide dashboards where you can scrutinize your most returned items, the average value of returned orders, and number of returns initiated and received.
OMS and RMA integration
Your return solution should offer both OMS and RMA integration so you can clearly identify items that are part of an order, understand return eligibility, and receive feedback on each item
By connecting to your inventory system, your return solution will surface exchange options in real-time without requiring you or the customer to do extra work. This will also allow you to deliver the same level of care your customer expects from you even when a product doesn’t work out.
Return routing and rule settings
Being able to pre-set return rules and automatically direct products to the appropriate distribution centers or stores is critical functionality you’ll need from any new return solution. This is particularly helpful with resellable products or damaged goods that need to be routed to a disposal center.
A product comment section
Under most ecommerce models where returns are handled through a carrier, there’s no visibility into what customers think or feel. However, obtaining these qualitative insights is crucial if you want to better assess product quality, PDP description accuracy, and more. The return solution you invest in should allow your customers to share their product feedback (or any feedback related to the shopping experience) with you.
The right return solution will empower you to put more money in the bank by connecting you with additional marketing and branding opportunities.
Any customer looking to return a purchase is forced to re-engage with you in some capacity. As the retailer, you get to decide what that re-engagement experience looks like, so make sure your solution is capable of supporting your vision for returns.
At the most basic level, it should be able to offer refunds in the form of gift cards or store credit, forcing your shopper to keep their dollars with your brand and ensuring earned revenue doesn’t fall off the books.
Few online merchants think about their return solution as an additional marketing channel but they should. The best return solutions will allow you to drive additional traffic to your product pages, and increase your sales volume by marketing at multiple points throughout the returns journey:
These touchpoints provide your brand with another opportunity to cultivate a relationship and save future sales. Some of the features you’ll want to consider include…
By bundling marketing messages with transactional emails and notifications, you open up
a new channel to reach your most qualified buyers that doesn’t require an opt-in.
Additional promotional space
Rather than relying on third-party advertisers to spread your message, you can populate your return experience with relevant products, discounts, promotions, and other updates. This encourages further purchases that are hyper-personalized to each individual shopper’s taste.
When a customer makes a return, you need to control the experience by serving up your branding and business rules. To do this, you need a solution that’s customizable and flexible so you can tailor it to fit your needs (your logo, brand colors, fonts, and headers). When used properly, such a solution boosts shopper immersion in your brand.
For example, if your return process uses branded tracking pages, you can use those pages to continue telling your story, providing alternate product recommendations, and giving your customers a clear sense of value. This keeps your brand top-of-mind with the customer, increasing the likelihood they remember you when it’s time to make another purchase.
Home pickup maximizes customer convenience which, as you know, is critical in today’s ecommerce environment. In fact, home pickup is seeing solid adoption among big spenders and VIP consumers—those shoppers who checkout with over $250 in merchandise. These are the type of customers who not only want to see white-glove service offerings, but are also willing to pay a premium for them. Most are willing to pay a small fee ($5 to $9 dollars) for the convenience of home pickup.
As so few ecommerce vendors currently offer home pickup, using a return solution that accommodates home pickup immediately differentiates your brand from the competition, increasing loyalty amongst your biggest spenders (and by charging a small fee, you can offset all the operational costs of offering home pickup).
Currently the Senior Content Marketing Manager at Narvar, helping 1300+ of the world's most-admired brands—including Sephora, Levi's, and L'Oréal—take their post-purchase experiences to new heights. Born and raised in San Francisco, but I've lived all over the world. Previous residences include Seattle, Denver, Santa Monica, Kinsale (Ireland), and Wellington (New Zealand). Writer by trade, football player by passion, and tall by genetic lottery.