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Turning Returns into Return Customers: How Reverse Logistics Defines e-Commerce

The way to succeed at e-commerce is to think like your customers. But how do they think?

A decade ago, retailers were responsible for the in-store experience and the quality of their product. That was pretty much it. Today, online retailers are held accountable for everything that happens in-between, in transit, and a lot more. Traffic used to annoy shoppers on the way to the mall, but today, those same delays are the retailer’s problem as well. Online retailers picked up the legwork in exchange for access to a booming market. With those extra responsibilities, you might be obsessed with the complexities of your fulfillment and returns operations – like everyone else in e-commerce – but that’s not what’s important to your customers. They want reliability and they don’t want to pay for it.

To put it another way, the e-commerce experience starts the moment a customer navigates to a platform and ends either when the product arrives at the purchaser’s address, or when their returned purchase is processed, and the refund is deposited into their bank account or refunded to their credit card. In between those moments, a complex web of interactions brings dozens of different companies together, and the failure of one link can reflect poorly on the whole chain.

More Returns Than Ever

It’s a chicken and egg question whether e-commerce is driving returns, or if the increasing ease of returns is turning more consumers on to online purchases. One thing is for sure though, there are more returns than ever.

This is especially true for apparel shopping, where the widespread adoption of free returns has turned the internet into a virtual changing room. Some fulfillment experts estimate that the return rate for online apparel purchases is close to 40 percent. That’s because, as of yet, there really isn’t an online equivalent to trying on an article of clothing in person. There’s a similar dynamic at play with other online purchases. Those free returns induce shoppers to buy online because they know if it doesn’t work out, they can ship it back.

Without free returns, few shoppers would risk buying an article of clothing that might not fit.

Without free returns, few shoppers would risk buying an article of clothing that might not fit. So now that we’ve established the importance of returns, the challenge is to make returning an online purchase a positive experience for customers.

Why Returns Matter

It’s quite simple. Returns matter because the moment your customers decide – for any number of reasons – that they want to return their purchase in exchange for a refund, the clock starts ticking. The moment they make that decision, they are holding a product that they don’t want and they are short the amount of money they spent on it. It’s a delicate situation and keeping the customer on your side is a complex interaction of logistics and customer service.

At the same time, every one of us has retailers, restaurants, or other corporate entities that we love. For many of us, that attachment comes from their customer service experience, friendly interactions with the staff, or some other interpersonal experience. With e-commerce, those opportunities don’t exist and retailers must make up for that with flawless logistics, as customers swap brick and mortar familiarity for online convenience.

This challenge will be won or lost based on your company’s logistics

This challenge will be won or lost based on your company’s logistics, so having that in mind, here are a couple of points to consider as you evaluate your e-commerce strategy:

Make it easy – From your customers’ perspective, returns should be easy to handle and seamless. At this point, prepaid return labels and flexible return shipping are commonplace, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. You need to make sure that you communicate the best return options to your customers, such as where they can drop off the packages, pickup times and other important information. You should communicate this automatically, in advance, so that your customers know that they have options. This will help them feel in control of the experience at all times.

Make it visible – with the right track and trace technology, it’s easy for logistics companies to know where a shipment is at any given time. That information should be communicated to your customer. Online shoppers might not even know about the option, but proactively letting them know how their return is processing improves the retail experience and converts customers into return shoppers.

Make it fast – Nobody wants to wait for their refund, so your returns policy should take that into account. A smart return policy should be able to dispense refunds in advance of their final processing when they arrive back at the warehouse. Regardless of how your company processes the return, the customer should be taken care of first and not held up by logistics constraints.

Make it scale – Every holiday season there are at least several articles about bottlenecks in the returns policy and that’s because millions of more customers turn to the internet every year for their gift purchases. Check with your logistics provider in advance of busy periods to ensure that they can scale to your needs.

How BlueGrace Can Help

You should be focusing on your core strengths in retail, not logistics, and that’s where we come in.

You want your logistics partner to embrace these values and to have a sophisticated enough approach to accommodate a data-intensive e-commerce operation. At BlueGrace, an experienced customer support team manages the entire returns and claims process to ensure a high customer satisfaction rating. BlueGrace uses its strategic relationships with their carriers to get great pricing with a mix of quality carriers. At BlueGrace, we work with new customers to understand their businesses and engineer the most seamless delivery and returns process possible. You should be focusing on your core strengths in retail, not logistics, and that’s where we come in.

With the logistics experts at BlueGrace reviewing past data at the beginning of the relationship, our partner e-commerce customers can increase their profits, save employee time and most importantly keep the online customers they spent so much to acquire. Feel free to fill out the form below for a free analysis today!