Online retailers have no need to fear returns

For online retailers with an efficient and professional logistics partner, high volume returns should hold no fear says Charlie Walker, marketing director of Berkshire-based supply chain and online fulfillment specialist, Walker Logistics.

As the ecommerce retail industry has grown, so too has the number of products ordered online that are returned. It is estimated that between 30 and 50 per cent of items purchased via the internet are sent back and, at any time, as much as 10 per cent of resalable inventory is within the returns process and unavailable for onward marketing.

It is obvious then that omni-channel retailers who fail to ensure that they have networks in place to process inventory as it comes back to the business risk finding themselves at a significant commercial disadvantage. 

But efficient reverse logistics is about more than cutting losses: consumers are inclined to shop more with retailers who make the returns process easier, so a good returns experience breeds loyal customers and drives sales. 

Consumers expect a quick, often free, no hassle policy that allows them to freely shop with the confidence of knowing that they can easily return an online purchase if it is not suitable - for whatever reason. And we know that  it is increasingly common for shoppers  to review an online retailer’s returns policy before making a purchase and, if choosing between different sellers, consumers will usually pick the retailer that appears to offer the quickest and most straightforward returns policy. 

So, with so much at stake, it is essential that retailers choose a logistics fulfillment partner that can demonstrate a track record of delivering the same kind of efficiency when it comes to processing returns as they do when getting new orders out of the door.

Of course, the ideal position for retailers is to minimise returns and while some sellers might be tempted to make an effort to reduce returns volume by making the returns process less straightforward for the consumer, there are few brands or retailers who’d risk losing customers and revenue by introducing significant changes to their returns policy.

Therefore, it falls to the logistics company to devise and operate a cost-effective, yet highly efficient model that delivers a win-win scenario for both the seller and the consumer. 

As a 3PL handling returns I see this as one of Walker Logistics’ core service and one we should be expected to handle without too many complications. Indeed, as long as we have been briefed on the process, volume expected and turnaround time dictated, then we will ensure that processes, space and personnel are in place to meet targets.

At Walker Logistics we like to ‘personalise’ each customer’s returns operation to deliver a bespoke service.  This might involve something as simple as running a quality control check to identify items of clothing that are fit for re-sale or running diagnostic tests on electronic equipment and, if necessary, undertaking repairs or modifications within our dedicated re-work facilities to allow the product to be sold again.

Open and honest communication between the retailer and its logistics partner is essential if a smooth returns operation is to be achieved so we spend a lot of time on returns strategy covering communication channels and the flow of information between ourselves and our customers. When talking to a new customer we discuss the process they offer or would like to follow in conjunction with the expected volume and tailor our service accordingly. 

The ability to offer easy, hassle free returns allows online retailers to offer their customers the peace of mind that comes with knowing that they won’t be ‘stuck’ with a purchase they do not want. As a consequence, returns are only likely to increase in volume and more companies will find them becoming harder to manage.

But for online retailers with an efficient and professional logistics partner, high volume returns should hold no fear. 

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