Nov 14 2018

Saving the Sale With a Streamlined Customer Returns Workflow

During the busy holiday season or after a big sales promotion, it’s common to see an uptick in customer service requests and ultimately an increase in returns and exchanges. Optimizing the frontend experience for the customer returns experience will minimize the number of calls your customer support receives, but you also need a streamlined returns management workflow to manage returns, exchanges, and refunds efficiently.

In the past, many brands believed providing an easy process for customers to return their order would hurt their sales and incentivize customers to send back their purchase. Over time, brands learned that returns are a much bigger part of the overall buyer journey—by providing a quick, transparent, and easy returns workflow, you build trust among your customers and increase customer retention.

According to Karen Fitzgerald, senior marketing manager at Returnly, one returns workflow mistake many brands and retailers fall into is dynamically updating the return policy based on the reason for the return. For example, a shopper who is returning an item because it’s damaged will receive a free return label, but a shopper who is returning the item because it’s the wrong size is required to pay for the return label. “Customers figure this out pretty quickly and will choose the option that provides the free return label for every return,” says Fitzgerald. Not only does this encourage otherwise trustworthy shoppers to lie, but this also skews your insights and data. When you create your workflow, keep it straightforward and cohesive.

Exchange vs. Refund vs. Store Credit Workflows

The ultimate goal of any return experience is to save the sale. Ideally, the customer will opt to exchange the item or receive store credit in lieu of receiving a full refund to their debit or credit card. Many brands create self-service online return experiences within their ecommerce store that allows users to request returns and print their own shipment label. If your ecommerce site is on Magento Enterprise Edition, the return merchandise authorization (RMA) allows customers to request returns directly from your Magento store.

When the customer reaches the return page on your site, one of the first questions you need to ask is why they want to return the product. This will determine which workflow process they follow and which content you present to save the sale. For example, if the reason for the return is the item is too small, offer to send them another size to try at no cost. Or, if the customer chooses the full refund option, promote instant store credit.

During the holidays, one of the most common edge cases is handling gift exchanges. Fitzgerald says, “Similar to how you want to be consistent with a returns policy, the same applies to gifting—whether that’s a unique policy or not, you want to make it clear to your customers so they are aware of what happens if they need to return an item. When you have a distinct policy for gift exchanges, you remove the confusion, decrease calls to support, and earn two happy customers out of one purchase: the giver and the receiver.”

When you opt for a more traditional return workflow—including the return label in the original order—you lose the opportunity to provide quick exchanges or instant store credit. You also lose visibility into your returns, resulting in surprise returns that disrupt warehouse operations and inventory dynamics. “When you give a pre-printed return label it’s so easy to return a product, you leave the power to return in your shoppers’ hands, which can lead to expensive surprise returns down the road,” says Fitzgerald. Across Returnly’s merchants, Fitzgerald sees a reduction in return rates by when they offer an online, print-your-own-label option.

By leveraging a returns management platform to automate the workflow, you also reduce the time it takes to manage returns—freeing up your customer service team to focus on other critical tasks. You can also use APIs to pull real-time returns data into your warehouse management system, ERP, and BI tools.

If you use Magento’s RMA functionality, the store admin will see when a customer fills out a return form on the site. The admin has full control to manage and approve the return requests, send the customer a shipping label, and trigger email notifications. When the customer ships the item back to the store, the admin would create a credit memo for either a store credit or full or partial refund.

Return Insights and Data

Fitzgerald suggests that the top three data points to collect throughout the returns workflow are Return Reason, Returns by Device, and Location. Return Reason will be the most insightful and actionable data point in order to reduce the return rate. If you find that multiple shoppers are returning an item because it’s too big, you can add content to the product display page that says “we suggest ordering a size down.” Additionally, you can use the return rate to adjust your merchandise order (if an item has a high return rate, order less).

Returns by Device helps you know which experiences to funnel your resources to; if most people are landing on the returns page using a mobile device, focus on optimizing that experience. Returns by Location will assist in adjusting marketing tactics based on region.

Return Risks

A flexible return workflow leaves the door open for fraudulent shoppers. Often, brands that sell goods that are non-resellable, such as cosmetics, issue a full refund to the customer when they are dissatisfied, but will not accept a return. Most consumers are pleasantly surprised in these scenarios; however, others take advantage of the policy and purchase items with the intent of using the product and asking for a full refund.

Offering features like instant store credit and quick exchanges can be risky if you don’t have the right process in place. What if the customer never returns the original item after you provide store credit or exchange? There are companies, like Returnly, that will take on this risk so you don’t have to absorb the loss. Returnly tracks consumer behavior across their shopper network and analyzes every transaction in real-time, assessing the shopper behavioral risk. This allows brands to offer returnless returns, instant return refunds and real-time exchange fulfillment, without taking on any of the risks.

How you leverage returns during the customer buying experience will affect your customer retention, loyalty, and lifetime value. When you give your shoppers an exceptional post-purchase experience and utilize every touchpoint (order confirmation, order tracking, returns, etc.), you’re solidifying the customer relationship. The top things to focus on in the returns workflow are shortening the time it takes to issue a refund or store credit, creating a streamlined online user experience that you can control, and providing customers full transparency.

Shannon Kenneally

Content Writer

After graduating from Clemson, Shannon started her career in marketing, focusing on content creation and engagement. As Blue Acorn’s Content Writer, she keeps clients and customers up-to-date on the latest trends and news in the ecommerce world. In her free time, she enjoys running with her dog and checking out the local breweries in Charleston.

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