This is a guest blog post from Mark Burch, Director at Ezi Returns.
Having been in retail for over 18 years, returns are nothing new to me, but I did still find myself taking them personally. All that hard work in getting the products set up with images, creating great product descriptions etc, and the customer wants to return it! Or even worse, something outside of your control caused the problem, resulting in a return!
Time to take a deep breath and face the truth which is that if you sell online, you are going to get returns. Try and change your mindset from this being a negative to a positive experience for both and your customer.
By making small changes to the way we handled returns, we got better ratings and reviews from our customers saying how great we were. It felt good, staff were motivated, margins improved and the world of eCommerce started feeling a bit nicer agan.
Then we started selling overseas!
Cross-border trade is currently a key focus amongst retailers looking to expand their sales, but as with anything, CBT does come with its challenges. Specifically, one of the main reasons some small and medium sized companies often shy away from selling internationally is in fear of international returns.
SEE ALSO: How To: Start Cross-Border Trading
When it comes to returns, there are some challenges such as language barriers, culture and attitude, each of which can vary from one country to another, but at the end of the day customers all over have similar expectations.
Regardless of whether you are already selling overseas, or are thinking of embarking on the international route, here is a suggested action plan to make sure your returns process is up to scratch, and is able to provide a positive experience for you and your customers:
Review your processes
Obvious yes, but is your pick, pack and check process as good as it can be? Aim for 0% picking errors. To achieve this you should consider looking to improve your procedures, as well as looking at labelling, warehousing issues, bar code scanning and staff training, making sure to resolve any identified issues.
Make your returns policy & instructions easily accessible and clear for your customer to follow
It is reported that up to 67% of customers check out the returns policy first, before deciding on who to buy from, so read, re-read and get your friends and family to check your returns policy, and more importantly your returns instructions. Do they make sense? Think about how this information is presented on your website and packing slips or invoices, or if applicable on your dedicated returns form.
There is an argument that making the returns process too easy will increase your returns rate, and while this may be true for certain products, as a seller you will know what's best for your business. For most sellers, returns will always happen, and unfortunately as your sales grow, so will your returns rate. By understanding why your customers are returning your product(s), you can begin identifying trends or perhaps even problem products, and use this insight to make improvements and ultimately decrease the return rate.
Streamline your returns process
This could simply be making improvements to how quickly you respond to returns requests, or the way in which you deal with potential problem emails and resolve issues before they result in a return.
Having a returns form somewhere on your invoice to record important information, such as the reason for the return, not only helps speed up the handling of the return once the item is recieved, but also provides you with valuable data.
As a seller, you should deal with returns as though they are a new order. In other words, they should be a priority. A customer that recieves a positive experience is much more likely to recommend you to others and shop with you again, as they will trust you.
An important part of streamling your returns process is working out how to deal with the logistics of getting the unwanted items back. Typically, these are your options:
1. Provide a pre-paid label to your customers
This can be expensive and usually involves a contract with a courier or postal service in each country, or alternatively a contract covering a range of countries. If you have the volumes to meet the minimum levels this can work well, and if your items are all of a similar size and value, you can work the average cost into your margins. Unfortunately, for many sellers that sell items of varying sizes and values, your return costs per item could be very high, which means this might not be the best option.
2. Write them off and let the customer keep the item
This is not a viable option for higher value goods, and is definitely not good for your bottom line. Some customers may catch onto this as well and abuse it in the future.
3. Let the customer post the item back to you and wait for their postage refund (or not depending on the circumstances)
This doesn't tend to be popular with customers, especially in places such as Germany. The item can take several days or more to arrive back with you, and increases the customers anxiety and the likelihood of a poor rating or review. You also have no control over what service they may use and therefore have little or no control over return postage cost.
4. Engage the services of a returns solution provider
This type of service is invaluable when selling abroad, as it can literally halve the cost of letting customers post the item themselves internationally.
As an example, at Ezi Returns, we provide a local returns address in each country, as customers are far happier returning items within their own country for peace of mind and speed of resolution. This is also often a condition for some marketplaces, for example Amazons' International Returns Policy requires sellers to either provide a local returns address or pay for the return themselves.
When the items are recieved, vital information is sent to the seller the exact same day. The seller then processes the refund or exchange as normal themselves, and the items are then stored until ready for consolidated, cost-effective shipment back to the seller. Some companies also offer additional services such as 're-pack and send', where the returned goods are sent on to a new customer within that country, turning your returned items back into cash far quicker, while significantly saving on shipping costs.
Linnworks customers also have the advantage of having a returns process built into the system, along with the ability to have multiple warehouses on their system. This means you can book a return, say to Germany, into your German warehouse, while keeping accurate stock data. Linnworks also provides the additional option of making that warehouse stock available on the target marketplace to re-sell more quickly.
In summary, do not let the fear of international returns thwart your business growth. Instead, consider using a returns solution provider such as Ezi Returns to help improve your process, your customer experience and your products.
Ezi Returns operates a returns service for businesses ranging from one person operations to international groups in the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy, with more countries being added as the demand increases across international borders.