Posted: Wed 19th Jul 2023
So, the spreadsheet you were using to track your e-commerce returns is more tattered than Lance Armstrong's legacy. And your customer service team is so swamped that they can't do their actual jobs.
Here's why that's good news. Being unable to manually keep a handle on all your orders means you're growing fast. And a more efficient solution will allow you to scale up your customer service and secure more repeat business.
Granted, replacing your existing processes is still a hassle, but we're here to make it as easy as possible. So whether you're running a business full time, hustling on the side in your spare time, or maintaining a passive income stream, by the end of this blog, you'll know exactly how to automate your e-commerce returns and get hours of precious time back.
Over to our five e-commerce experts for their takes.
Drashti Bhadesiya, e-commerce expert at customer conversation platform Desku
Lisa Dietrich, partner at bank comparison site Girokonto.io
Jake Fischground, co-founder of WooCommerce plugin BizPrint
Robert Hoffmann, marketing manager at discount site CashbackHero
Vaibhav Kakkar, CEO of digital marketing agency Digital Web Solutions
What are automated e-commerce returns?
Automated returns remove the need for e-commerce business owners to manually handle customer returns. As a result, human error is no longer part of the equation and customers receive a slick end-to-end experience, making them more likely to purchase from the same business again.
As Desku's Drashti Bhadesiya says:
"Businesses tend to be established and growing when they invest in automated returns, although some proactive organisations seek to automate their processes from the outset."
And here's the thinking behind it…
Why should you invest in automated returns?
When you first start selling online, manually handling returns is manageable. But when you scale and volumes increase, it becomes unsustainable.
It's at this point that automated product returns start delivering huge time-saving benefits, when you compare them to manual returns. Here's how they measure up.
Benefits of automated e-commerce returns vs manual returns
5 ways to automate e-commerce returns (and unburden customer service)
Clearly then, automated e-commerce returns are worth investing in. But how can you achieve all the benefits above so you can free up your customer service teams and allow them to spend time on actually important tasks, like nurturing customers and analysing their feedback? Let's find out.
1: Invest in a point-of-sale (POS) system
A lack of visibility on your e-commerce returns can be fatal. To counteract this, you should think about investing in a POS system, as Vaibhav Kakkar, CEO of Digital Web Solutions, explains:
"Your point of sale (POS) system makes it simple to keep track of returns, which is crucial for good client return procedures.
"All merchandise must be handed in and accounted for with purchase orders, with any losses documented."
In terms of protecting against cheeky customers who may take advantage of your returns process, Vaibhav also has some advice.
"You can ask customers who are returning goods for their identity. This can both help confirm that the return reasons and the consumer who made the original purchase are legitimate.
"Additionally, by including this data in your records, it'll be simple to spot any clients abusing the system. These can include clients who frequently purchase products for a single use before returning them."
2: Think about getting a warehouse management system (WMS)
To support your POS system, Vaibhav emphasises the importance of having the right infrastructure in place in your warehouse. He explains:
"A warehouse management system (WMS) can be used to plan more effective picking and packing routes, monitor inventory levels and enhance the design of your facility.
"In your e-commerce firm, you may also employ returns management software to let your clients process returns without requiring support.
"Automation and supply chain process optimisation is essential for preventing these errors, which inevitably happen more frequently as your organisation expands.
"Automation can be used to avoid future issues if the size of your e-commerce site prevents you from manually packing and shipping each order to check that the products are indeed what the buyer bought."
3: Set up an online returns portal
When it comes to low (ish) effort and high-reward automation activities, you'll have to look hard to find something that delivers better results than an online returns portal, as Drashti explains.
"Online return portals help track all the returned products that customers generate.
"As a self-service process from end to end, there's no need for any input from your customer service team, meaning they can focus on more value-adding tasks.
"At the same time, because of the seamless process, customer trust increases in your e-commerce business, making them more likely to return to you in future."
4: Provide return labels
To end the nightmare of manually handling different kinds of returns, you need to provide shipping labels. Drashti says:
"These help you better understand, differentiate and track the types of returns people are processing, whether they're refunds, exchanges, requests for store credit or even a warranty return."
Bizprint's Jake Fischground adds:
"Pre-paid, pre-printed return labels on packages provide customers with a convenient and cost-free way to return unwanted items."
5: Programme automated email responses
In a self-serve process, it's vital that customers are kept in the loop throughout. That means notifying them when their return has been processed and received as well as when an action has been taken, such as a refund or an exchange. Drashti says:
"Automated email responses provide real-time validation on the return process.
"As customers are always curious about the status of their returns, automated emails ensure they're never left in the dark.
"Because of this, they don't need to repeatedly contact your customer support team throughout the process."
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