Returns are an unavoidable part of retail. You make mistakes. Customers change their mind. Whatever the reason, the customer wants to talk to you about their order, and you have to deal with it.
With customers buying on multiple sales channels, and using everything from Twitter to the telephone to try and get in touch with you, having an omnichannel returns process is essential.
This chapter explores how to make the customer journey as seamless as possible, and how to help your staff provide an excellent service.
We’ll see how best to deal with logistics and accounting, and how to report on returns, and how to minimise the impact of returns on your bottom line.
Our panel of retail experts discuss each chapter in detail with the authors of the Omnichannel Survival Guide.
A key stage on the journey towards efficient omnichannel retail is automation, and providing self-serve platforms where customers can place orders, receive updates, and get in touch with you however they want, and whenever they want.
When it comes to sales order processing, most retailers automate this part of their business pretty well, even across multiple channels. Customers can place orders via a marketplace or ecommerce platform, and as long as there aren’t any blockers such as missing inventory or fraud check failure, most orders flow through to shipment with minimal human intervention. Since the process is started by the customer on their channel of choice, it doesn’t really matter whether they have bought from you before (though it does help to recognise them if they are a repeat customer).
When it comes to returns, building a cross-channel self-serve process is more complex because there is a history you need to refer to - the previous order that is being returned. Additionally, automating returns can also be trickier than automating sales due to the approval cycle that’s often required.
Returns have a disproportionate impact on the bottom line, so reducing a return rate by just 1% can boost gross profits by 1.6% and operating profits by a massive 15%
In order to verify that the customer did in fact buy from you, you need access to the original sale, regardless of the channel it was placed on. Perhaps a customer bought online and is wanting to return an item to store, or bought on eBay and is calling you up on the phone. Their order reference could be that from the channel, or from your back office system. Or, as is increasingly common, the customer just expects you to be able to find their order by name, postcode or email address. There’s a wide range of communication channels that they can use to get in touch with you too. As well as the traditional phone, email, marketplaces and retail stores, Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp are becoming more common as ways for buyers to start the returns process.
Customers expect you to be able to serve them quickly and effectively, while giving you very little information to go on. They don’t care about the technological challenges of making an ecommerce sale available to in-store staff, or the intricacies of cross-channel gift vouchers. They don’t think about ‘channels’. They just see your business as a single entity, and their relationship is with your company, wherever and however you trade.
Now, let's look at how returning an item can work in a well-oiled business.
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