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Ecommerce Returns Automation

Matt Blevins
Updated 06/19/20 7:41 PM

How do I know when ecommerce returns automation is right for my brand?

Returns management is one of the most complex and costly challenges in all of ecommerce.

Returns directly impact your customer service and operations efforts, but they also have widespread implications throughout supply chain, merchandising, and even accounting.

Traditionally, the returns process is full of manual interactions and repetitive tasks - intelligently crafted automation is vital to a more efficient workflow. Before we dive into ecommerce returns automation specifically, let's set the stage for where these workflows fit into the greater operational picture.

What is ecommerce automation?

Ecommerce automation is any labor-saving technology, that makes a workflows operate automatically with minimal human involvement.

To put it simply, automation reduces human effort in manual or repeated tasks.

Click here to see 6 Ways to Process Returns Faster

But the answer isn't always more automation; it's smarter automation. ReturnLogic strives to mechanize the most labor-intensive tasks, while still allowing retailers to be engaged and in control of their workflow.

How do I automate my ecommerce business? 

There are a whole lot of options for the savvy ecommerce merchant to infuse automation into their shop. So many that it can leave you feeling dizzy and confused. Platforms like Zapier, Shopify Flow, and Klaviyo give you powerful automation for a fraction of a penny per action.

The important question is: what should I automate and when should I automate it?

It can be tempting to automate for the sake of automation. But it's important to remember that broken or inefficient automation can lead to even more work cleaning up the mess. Instead, focus on only automating processes and workflows that have proven effective manually.

When you automate a proven process, you're using technology to replicate success. 

Look for workflows within your business where you find yourself logging in and out of systems to transfer information. Also look out for places where you're currently using shared spreadsheets.

Each of these situations are likely major time sucks, prone to human error, and huge opportunities for automation. 

What percentage of purchases are returned?

The greater your returns volume, the more of an impact that automation is going to have on your business.

While the percentage varies by industry, ecommerce return rates often fall between 15% and 30%.

Fashion / apparel typically has the highest return rate, with many retailers seeing 20% to 30% of the products they sell come back as returns.

The market of tech accessories, such as phone cases and chargers, usually has a return rate down around 5% to 10%.

Regardless, one thing is certain: as your business grows, your volume of returns will grow, too.

How do I manage ecommerce returns?

For the purposes of organization and coherence, let's walk through the lifecycle of a return chronologically.

Creating a Return

Product in hand, a shopper decides she would like to return it.

She can simply navigate to the appropriate page on your website, and begin a return by searching either her order number or email address in the lookup bar.

No more returns form to fill out, and no more back-and-forth emails with customer service.

Return Policies

ReturnLogic gives you the power to automatically enforce your return policies.

You determine the length of time in which the shopper is allowed to return the product, and you can use product tags to designate specific products or groups of products as non-returnable.

On top of that, the return type a shopper selects can dictate the length of time in which they can return an item. For example, you could establish a 45-day return window for exchanges, and a 30-day return window for refunds.

Automating return policy enforcement saves you the time and hassle of confirming that the criteria are met, and it also prevents shoppers from reaching a major point of friction with customer service.

No one wants to give shoppers bad news. Automated policies eliminate the need to do so when the shopper is starting a return. A better returns experience means happier shoppers.

Exchanges

In the case of an exchange, ReturnLogic's platform removes a variety of hurdles the shopper may face.

Customers no longer have to email your customer service, and explain which products they would like to return, and which products they would like to receive.

Check out The Shopify Merchant's Guide to More Exchanges & Less Refunds

A shopper can simply click the products she would like to return, and then browse your selection to find the products she would like in exchange.

You can decide whether you want shoppers to be able to search your entire selection for an exchange, or just variants of the original product.

Furthermore, you can use product tags to exclude products or groups of products from being requested for an exchange.

These items will not appear when the shopper browses your product selection.

ReturnLogic also provides an inventory threshold to prevent out-of-stock issues in the exchange process.

You can set a threshold, say 20, and shoppers will not see the option to request a product for exchange if its current inventory level is less than 20.

Gift Returns

A powerful, yet overlooked capability in returns management is gift returns.

Through ReturnLogic, the gift recipient is able to begin a return with nothing other than the shipping label on the box and her own email address.

The recipient then has the choice of store credit, exchange, or warranty. The best part is: the gift giver never has to know.

Done properly, gift returns remove friction between the recipient and customer service, as well as the recipient and the giver.

Return Authorization

In the case of all returns, you can choose whether you would like returns to be automatically authorized or manually authorized.

Automatic authorization means that the shipping label is issued as soon as the shopper submits her return request, whereas manual authorization gives you the discretion to examine the case before you decide to approve.

Collecting Returns Data

In addition to these automated returns creation abilities is data collection.

Returns data allows you to improve your processes and create value for your shoppers. The ReturnLogic platform captures key pieces of information on each return, such as product, return type, and return reason.

You can also decide whether additional fields, such as open-ended return comments or images, are required or optional, based on the return reason.

Shipping Type

Next, the return type or return reason can dictate the shipping type for each return. For example, you could choose to provide free shipping on exchanges, but not on refunds.

Once the return is authorized, either manually or automatically, the shipping label is issued and the shopper is able to send back the return.

Status Updates

Once the shopper sends her return back, you can automatically keep her updated on its status.

The two main checkpoints in the workflow are “acquired" and “completed."

The “acquired" status indicates that the return has been received by your warehouse team or 3PL, and should be processed shortly, whereas “completed" expresses that the return has been fully processed and the refund, exchange, or store credit has been issued.

Shoppers expect to be kept in the loop about the status of their returns. Automated emails prevent back-and-forth communication, and create a more seamless customer experience.

Operational Visibility

At the same time, your warehouse team or 3PL is easily able to see the statuses of returns. Your teams have visibility into statuses such as “in-transit" and “delivered," giving them ample notice of what's headed their direction.

Additionally, you can choose to have returns automatically received in the ReturnLogic platform once they are delivered. This triggers the “acquired" step, and helps streamline the returns process.

More efficient operations begin with better visibility.

Collecting a Return

With a basic barcode scanner, your receiving team can quickly read and collect the information of a return.

In this process, they have the ability to mark the disposition of the returned products. This may indicate whether the products are ready for resale, dirty, or damaged.

This eliminates the need to use massive spreadsheets to keep record of returns, and keeps different teams on the same page.

Completing a Return

When a return is fully processed, the “completed" email mentioned above is sent to the shopper. This lets them know that their return is completed, and that they will shortly receive their refund, exchange, or store credit.

You can also choose to have these emails sent separately, if you would like more time to inspect the return, or more personal communication with the shopper.

Restocking

Finally, ReturnLogic provides the ability to restock returned products directly into your Shopify inventory, assuming the products are eligible to be resold.

This allows you to avoid inventory headaches, and get the returned items back into action as soon as possible.

In addition, doing so will update the inventory count in your inventory management software, if it is integrated with Shopify.

What is the outcome of ecommerce returns automation?

The typical returns workflow is full of manual steps and repetitive tasks. But that's not the fault of anyone - returns management is an immensely complex challenge.

Automation allows retailers to dramatically expedite the most laborious steps in their returns process.

Operational efficiency is one of the most integral, but complex components of returns management solutions.

ReturnLogic constructs intelligently crafted automation that improves operational efficiency, while allowing retailers to maintain involvement and control where they want it.

10 Questions to Ask When Evaluating Returns Management Software

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