The Flip Side of Fulfillment: Why Returns Are as Important as Orders

Published : June 5, 2015

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When you think about the ordering process you present to customers, how far do you look into the customer experience? Do you consider the sale completed and the proceeds "banked" once the item is in the customer's possession? If so, you may need to expand your thought processes a little further, because a good sale — the kind that fosters loyalty — definitely doesn't end there. Returns are no longer a footnote in the sales process, but rather a rich opportunity to prove your points of difference.

Your current systems may focus almost entirely on fulfillment, but they may be ripe for expanding to encompass the entire sales cycle.

Customers Expect It

It shouldn't come as a shock to hear customers expect some sort of return policy, but the quality demands that follow that expectation might surprise you.

John Costanzo of Supply & Demand Chain Executive cited a recent nationwide poll of shoppers in an article, pointing out that 65% of shoppers expect free shipping for their returns, and more than half of the respondents expected the return label to be included in the original packaging, too. These are expectations that go far beyond a simple "Yes, we'll take it back" stance. In fact, close to half or more of those same polled shoppers also demanded a no-questions-asked treatment and a refund on receipt of the goods. With numbers like these, there isn't really any wiggle room on the part of a seller to offer sub-par return processes, let alone no return process at all.

It's a Chance to Fix and Re-Engage

A customer returning an item is fairly likely to be unhappy on some front, so the act of making a return is a valuable attempt to repair that rift.

If the product is broken or inoperable, giving your customers the option to hold onto that broken item as you ship another free of charge minimizes hassle and helps put your brand back in high regard via smart fulfillment. If a disgruntled customer calls or emails with an issue, receiving an immediate, targeted and personalized solution will help take some of that head of steam away, giving your customer a chance to reconsider how they really feel about you and your product. The returns process can signal your marketing outreach to address unique concerns and complaints, sending out email blasts or in-package inserts that encourage the customer to return with a discount in hand and give your brand(s) a second chance.

It's an Opportunity for Brand Definition

In an article for Supply Chain & Demand Executive, Tom Caporoso poses a question on pricing for two identical items stocked in a pair of local stores. When emphasizing the superior customer service and generous return policy of the higher-priced item, the waters get a little murkier — the narrative naturally morphs from "Well, that price is lower." to "Well, the difference isn't that much and I really like the treatment here."

That narrative is one that builds customer loyalty and the legitimacy holy grail that is word-of-mouth advertising, as well as enabling you to charge what you need to without worrying too much about price wars. An evolved and customer-focused returns process can actually help support your brand image and increase the quality perception of your product to woo undecided customers.

Make no mistake — initial fulfillment will still bear the majority of your focus, as returns only make up roughly 9% of overall sales in a business. That doesn't mean, however, that a little extra attention and streamlining in your returns approach won't go a very long way towards increasing the other 91% of items passing through your warehouse doors.

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Topics: Supply Chain Logistics

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