Returns – such a dreaded term. Companies don’t like them, customers don’t want to have to deal with them, yet it is an inevitable part of doing business. With booming e-commerce sales, returns are getting even more frequent. By implementing best practices for returns management, you can get ahead of the curve and stay there by offering the best possible returns experience to your customers, running your internal operations more smoothly, and maybe even increasing profits.
Establish clear return policies
Return policies don’t have to be complex. The simpler it is for customers to return something, the more likely it is that they will shop with you again. Convoluted policies, or even just policies that are hard to find or understand, work against you. Making your return policies clear and concise will also help you sell. If customers know that returning an item is easy and straightforward, they’re more likely to make a purchase.
Simplify the returns process
It should not take a rocket scientist to figure out how to return an item, so keep it simple! There is a reason why “hassle free returns” have made a comeback in recent years. Happy customers = loyal customers. If someone has a bad experience returning something, it’s bad press for your business. That will translate into fewer sales and less repeat customers, and it costs much less to sell to an existing customer than to acquire a new one.
Provide a customer interface
A customer portal gives your customers a place to go to submit a return request, track the status of their shipment, and even engage with customer support. It also gives them peace of mind. Every customer wants to know that their return is in process and when their refund has been issued or a replacement product ships, and a customer returns interface does exactly that.
Make customer feedback a priority
Customers are the key to your success, which is why running a successful business means understanding your customers’ wants and needs. Polling customers regularly to ensure that your company is delivering the quality and service they expect is a good general business practice, and knowing why an item is returned can help you improve processes, product quality, and plan for new product development.
Offer free returns whenever possible Instead of looking at free returns as a waste of money, consider them a sunk cost. It’s part of running a business. Offering free returns will not only improve overall customer satisfaction but also make returns easier to track (especially when you use prepaid shipping labels). A good strategy is to offer free returns while limiting the timeframe of your return policies. Instead of allowing returns 90 days after a purchase, limit it to 30 days. This can help even out the total number of returns and keeps customers happy and loyal.
Allow multichannel returns
Sell, sell, sell! That’s the name of the game, right? If you want to be able to sell as much product as possible, that often means leveraging multiple sales channels. Online, in-store, catalogs, and resellers are just a few channels companies are using to sell products today – the opportunities are endless. Make it easy on your customers and your business, and streamline your returns process to allow them to return any item purchased through any channel however they want.
Keep customers informed throughout the process
Customers are savvy. They can search for status updates and contact customer service, but that only causes frustration and ends up costing you time, money, and resources. It may be an investment in your business that doesn’t seem like it has much of a payoff, but it is something your customers will appreciate. It can even be as simple as providing a tracking link for their shipment and sending an email notification once their return, replacement, and/or refund has been processed.
Integrate systems and processes for better tracking
If you track purchases to plan for inventory or invest in marketing to improve sales, for example, why wouldn’t you do the same for returns? Integrating systems and processes for better returns tracking is beneficial in so many ways. It makes it easier to run reports, plan for peak sales times throughout the year, invest in product improvements, and provide excellent customer service – and those are just the tip of the iceberg. Better returns tracking translates to better profit margins.
Use metrics and testing to improve products and processes
Metrics highlight areas for improvement and drive businesses to succeed. They make processes more objective, allowing you to see where you company is performing well and where it has room to grow. Reporting on returns to see average turnaround times, returns in process, and returns under warranty, for example, can help improve processes. Testing returned items for manufacturing mistakes, product functionality issues, and more can also help improve the quality of your products over time, reducing your overall number of returns.
Use returns as a sales opportunity
Every time a product is returned, you have the opportunity to improve customer service and sell additional items. Returns are often viewed as a failure or a customer loyalty-killer, but that is not often the case. Sometimes, a return is simply a return. Start viewing each return as a chance to upsell a customer, improve your product offerings, and better your business. Believe it or not, returns can be a powerful sales tool.