Recalls and Returns: The Flip-side of Fulfillment

Published : November 28, 2015


The holidays are fast approaching, and visions of high-volume shipments are dancing in every fulfillment center manager's head. However, even as everything even tangentially related to ecommerce is battening the hatches, the "other" holiday season is sneaking up quietly—the flood of returns in January. Not all gifts will hit the mark, which means that store credit usually shoots to the top of the wish list as soon as Santa returns to the North Pole. Are you and your team ready for that flip?

Don't Make It an Afterthought

While it may seem a little counter-intuitive, a smooth return experience is actually important for customer retention. Citing a poll in Multichannel Merchant, industry writer Daniela Forte notes that a staggering 85% of respondents would not return to buy from a company with a difficult or frustrating returns process. Echoing that sentiment, 95% said they would return to buy again if their return went off without a hitch. Returning an item is not always indicative of dislike for that entire company's line; sometimes a different color or size is all it takes to win over a customer for life. In fact, if the item is a gift, the returns process may be a customer’s first introduction to a company. Keep your first impressions stellar by simplifying and streamlining your returns process before the January crush. 

Streamline It on Your Side, Too

The customer isn't the only one to benefit from focus on the return process. Some clever design can eliminate headaches for your fulfillment center employees and even strengthen your relationship with your carriers. You can save time and effort by including self-adhesive return labels right on a customer’s invoice. This transforms the original shipping box and packing materials into the return vehicle, if necessary, thus eliminating a great deal of hassle for the consumer. The same cushioning and box integrity protects the product on its return journey, cutting down on packaging costs and increasing the chances you’ll have an item fit for resale. 

Recalls Happen to the Best of Us

A recall isn't necessarily the fault of an end company or their internal processes; a fundamental flaw in a supplier component can trigger a huge issue—no matter what time of year it happens to be. Don't make the mistake of putting all your faith in your suppliers. Smart business is nearly always about hedging whatever bets you can afford to. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst by adding recall protocols and guidelines into your best practices. No one on your fulfillment team should be hesitant about what comes next when that call comes in. It’s critical that you bolster your track-and-trace interactions now, before you face a problem, notes Supply and Demand Chain's Jack Payne, highlighting the unprepared Blue Bell Creamery's recent recall struggles. If it feels shaky, don't be afraid to escalate it to a drill situation, quizzing your employees to make sure implementation would happen quickly and accurately in a real recall scenario. Your customers—and your company's reputation—could depend on it.

No success-focused supply chain professional likes to dwell on recalls or returns, but they're an inextricable part of doing business. In fact, returns are actually projected to increase by 30% during the holidays this year, so if you already struggle with the volume on your hands, you'll need to do some triage STAT. As the holidays descend on the industry, your entire fulfillment center team should be able to handle returns without breaking a sweat. Make sure they know who to ask if issues come up, and stand ready to kick your current, updated recall plans into motion if the alarm should sound. 

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Topics: Vendor Management

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