How to Manage Omnichannel Returns from Multiple Sales Channels
Omnichannel returns enhance the customer experience by providing a seamless way to integrate returns into consumers’ everyday lives. Offering customers multiple returns methods allows them to choose the most convenient option, which will ultimately increase their overall level of satisfaction.
However, managing returns in an omnichannel environment can be challenging. From verifying third-party purchases to having multiple branches within the supply chain, the returns process can get super complicated quickly, especially for merchants who haven’t automated the process.
In this article, we explore what omnichannel shopping is, the challenges and best practices of managing omnichannel returns, and the tools and technologies available to merchants for managing multichannel returns solutions.
Understanding Omnichannel Shopping
Omnichannel returns refers to the process of returning an item purchased from a merchant through any channel, including online, in-store, or drop-ship. These returns can take many different forms, such as returning a product purchased online to a physical store location or returning a product purchased in-store by shipping it back to the retailer.
The impact of omnichannel returns on your business can be significant. On one hand, omnichannel returns can increase customer loyalty and satisfaction by providing a more convenient and flexible return experience. On the other hand, omnichannel returns can also create logistical and operational challenges for merchants, including managing inventory, tracking and processing returns, and ensuring consistent returns policies and procedures across all channels.
Why Have Multichannel Returns Solutions?
Consumers gravitate towards flexible returns policies. With the rise of ecommerce shopping and competition, it’s become an expectation from the ecommerce merchants they choose to buy from. By providing flexible return options, merchants improve customer experience, which is crucial in today’s competitive retail landscape.
Omnichannel returns allow shoppers to select the most convenient returns method for them. Making returns a more personalized experience helps shoppers fit a potential return into their lifestyle, rather than forcing them to adjust to the retailer’s policies and feeling stuck with a product they don’t want. Allowing omnichannel shoppers this freedom positively impacts customer satisfaction and loyalty by enhancing the shopping experience.
Types of Omni Returns
To begin understanding how to manage multichannel returns solutions, let’s discuss the different returns channels available to ecommerce merchants:
Return via UPS: Perhaps this is the most straightforward type of online returns. Customers have the option to drop their unwanted products off at their local UPS. Retailers work with shipping carriers to ensure products make it back to the warehouse safely.
This method can feel inconvenient to many customers, considering they need to access a printer for a shipping label, repackage the product, and find the time to drop it off at the post office. Some returns management providers offer printerless returns, which enables the scanning of a QR code to be printed at the UPS store vs. printing a label at home.
Buy Online, Return In-Store (BORIS): Another option is for customers to return products they bought online at their nearest physical location, otherwise known as BORIS. This option is preferred by many retailers because it cuts down on shipping costs and allows for returns to be processed quicker. Large retail companies, like Zara, began encouraging this returns method by charging for products returned online in 2022.
In-Store Returns Locations: Companies like Amazon have partnered with brick-and-mortar retailers to create in-store returns drop-off locations for online shoppers. For example, you can now return your Amazon products at a Kohl’s or Staples near you. This has revolutionized the returns industry by giving consumers the option to return products where they already shop. Returning an item at an in-store location provides retailers the option to incentive in-store shopping with coupons or special promotions.
Curbside Returns: In theme with making returns more convenient for shoppers, another returns method that has been rising in popularity is to offer curbside returns. Companies like Target have begun to roll out this program. Customers can drop unwanted products off right at the retailer’s door, making it quick and easy to complete a return. They can even pick up their favorite Starbucks coffee curbside during the process!
Home Pick-Up: Lastly, ecommerce retailers are partnering with delivery service companies, like DoorDash, or USPS to allow customers to schedule return pickups right from their door. While this is a newer returns method, the increased convenience will prove to be a favorite among shoppers.
Logistical Challenges of Omnichannel Returns
While a great way to increase customer retention, omnichannel returns also create logistical and operational challenges for retailers. The very nature of omnichannel returns means products can be returned through various channels. This can make managing inventory and tracking returns difficult for merchants who don’t have the proper returns management tools or resources.
Without properly managing inventory, it’s hard to ensure that returned products are available for customers to purchase or that there is enough inventory to fulfill potential new orders. This risks stock-outs, overstocking, and delays in processing returns, all of which will negatively impact customer satisfaction. That’s why it’s important to ensure enough staff and resources are on hand to process returns promptly and avoid delays, and robust returns management tools are used to integrate with inventory tracking software.
It’s also essential to maintain open communication with customers throughout the return process to keep them informed of any delays or issues. Doing this is easier with an automated returns system. That way, customers can be proactively notified about the returns process without an employee having to manually go in and message them about it. A clearly communicated returns policy also helps to reduce confusion with customers.
Below, we outline the top three challenges ecommerce merchant face when managing multichannel returns solutions:
Increased Risk of Error or Lost Items
The risk of errors or lost items in the supply chain can increase with multiple channels involved. When using multichannel returns solutions, returned products can be coming in from many different places. This creates opportunities for mistakes which results in additional costs, improper inventory management, and lost items in the supply chain.
One of the main reasons for errors and lost items is due to the lack of standardization in the omnichannel returns process. Each channel may have different requirements, such as different return labels, packaging, or even return deadlines. This leads to confusion among shoppers, who may send back items in the wrong way or at the wrong time, and to the wrong retailer, who may not be able to process the returns efficiently.
Additionally, the lack of visibility in the supply chain can lead to lost items. Once a returned item leaves the customer’s hands, it may go through multiple intermediaries, such as shipping carriers, warehouses, or third-party vendors, before it reaches the retailer. If any of these intermediaries make a mistake, the item may be lost in transit or end up in the wrong place, making it difficult to track and recover.
To minimize the risk of errors and lost items, merchants need to implement standardized omnichannel returns policies and procedures. This includes standardizing return labels, packaging, and deadlines across all channels, as well as using a centralized RMA system to track returns in real time.
Merchants should also work closely with their intermediaries, such as shipping carriers and warehouses, to ensure proper handling and tracking of returned items throughout the post-purchase supply chain.
Managing omnichannel returns requires careful attention to detail and standardization to minimize the risk of errors and lost items. Implementing a standardized process and working closely with intermediaries helps merchants improve the efficiency of the returns process, which will ultimately reduce the likelihood of costly mistakes.
Juggling Multiple Returns Policies
One of the main challenges of managing omnichannel returns is the inconsistency in return policies and procedures across different channels. This creates confusion for customers, who may not understand the return process for a particular channel, and can lead to frustration, dissatisfaction, and churn.
For example, a merchant may offer a more flexible return policy for items purchased online, such as a longer return window or free return shipping, than for items purchased in-store. This can be due to the higher costs and logistical challenges associated with processing returns from online purchases.
However, if a customer purchased an item online but wants to return it in-store, they may not be aware that the return policy is different and may expect the same flexibility that they would receive when returning the item online. This negative return experience can significantly impact the likelihood of that shopper making a repeat purchase.
In addition to shopper confusion, different return policies and procedures can also create challenges for retailers in managing their returns process. Merchants may need to track and process returns differently for each channel, which can be time-consuming and lead to errors or lost items.
To overcome these challenges, merchants should strive to implement a consistent return policy across all channels, providing clear and concise instructions for shoppers on how to return items regardless of the channel they purchased from.
By implementing a consistent return policy and procedure, merchants can provide a better omnichannel return experience for their customers, while also improving their own operational efficiency and reducing costs associated with managing returns across different channels.
Inconsistent Inventory Tracking & Management
Tracking and managing inventory when managing multichannel returns solutions can be difficult. When a customer returns an item, merchants need to be able to immediately update their inventory levels across all channels.
This ensures that the merchant does not oversell an item that has already been returned. Without it, retailers risk stock-outs, overstocking, and other inventory-related issues that can impact the shopper experience and ultimately, the bottom line.
Real-time inventory management is critical in managing omnichannel returns. This can be done by implementing an automated returns management system that allows merchants to track returns in real time. Not only will this ensure that returns are processed quickly and efficiently, but it will also keep customers notified about where they are at in the returns process, so your staff doesn’t have to waste time manually having to let each customer know the return status themselves.
Not to mention, real-time tracking also helps merchants identify any issues within the return process, such as delays or lost items, and take corrective action to address these issues. That way, the same thing can be prevented from happening in the future.
Ultimately, implementing returns systems and processes that allow for efficient tracking and processing of returns helps merchants minimize the negative impact omnichannel returns can have on managing inventory in the supply chain.
Best Practices for Omnichannel Returns
It may seem like there are too many obstacles standing in the way of having a proper omnichannel returns strategy. However, it’s important to remember that what matters most when it comes to multichannel returns solutions is to:
- 1. Reduce confusion and increase clear messaging for the shopper
- 2. Have consistency in returns policies and processes
The following tips will help to ensure the quality and efficiency of the returns management process in a multichannel solution:
Implement a Consistent Returns Policy
When managing multichannel returns solutions, things are bound to get complicated when it comes to efficiently processing returns, tracking inventory, and keeping customers in the loop. Consistency within returns policies makes things easier to understand for customers and keeps things more simple for the supply chain.
Having a single policy that applies to all channels streamlines the entire returns process, which reduces the risk of errors or inconsistencies. Not to mention, it allows for returns to be processed quicker, which builds trust with customers and increases the likelihood of them making a repeat purchase.
Use a Centralized Returns Management System
Alongside consistent returns policies, a centralized returns management solution should be used to standardize the entire returns process and keep track of returns coming in from every channel.
The whole point of consistency across policies is to make it simple to track and manage returns. Utilizing a centralized returns management system allows merchants a single point of entry for processing returns.
With an automated tool, the customer support team can process a return, the warehouse can track the inventory, and the customer can stay informed on where everything’s at in the process. It helps streamline information, which is important when trying to prevent stock-outs, overstocking, lost items, or other inventory-related errors.
Additionally, a single RMA system ensures all returns are processed the same way, regardless of what channel the customer used to process them. This streamlines the experience and reduces confusion for shoppers. Remember, the whole point of a multichannel returns solution is to enhance the shopper experience.
You want to make returns more convenient for them, not more complicated.
Have Real-Time Inventory Tracking
With a centralized returns management system comes real-time inventory tracking. As stated before, having accurate data on inventory levels at all times is critical for ecommerce merchants who have customers purchasing and returning products 24/7.
Without it, merchants are guaranteed to lose out on sales for thinking they don’t have enough products, oversell on products they don’t actually have in stock, constantly have products lost in the supply chain that are never to be found again, and leave customers feeling dissatisfied with the shopper experience after never getting their return processed properly.
Your products are the base of your company. If you don’t know how much of everything you have at all times, it’ll be very difficult to keep your business running smoothly.
Monitor & Analyze Returns Data for Patterns
All ecommerce companies want to sell as many products as possible by providing the best shopper experience. This becomes easier to accomplish when decisions to improve the company are based on backed insights into how the business is currently operating.
Returns data can be used to gain a better understanding of customers, product performance, and flaws within the supply chain. It gives merchants access to why products are being returned, how long the returns process took, how often customers are returning items, and so on. This information can then be used to set proper objectives and tactics for business improvements that will ultimately enhance the shopping experience.
Maintain Timely & Clear Communication with Your Shoppers
Lastly, shoppers must always have access to accurate information on their returns. Online shopping comes with a lot of challenges that aren’t present when shopping at physical locations. One of the biggest challenges stems from miscommunication in online messaging.
Without easy access to customer service representatives, it’s important to be clear and concise with everything laid out on your ecommerce platform. From products eligible for returns, to what to expect from the returns process, a retailer’s returns policy page should lay out everything a shopper needs to know in the case of a return.
From there, ecommerce merchants should automate their returns messaging so that customers are updated every time their return reaches a new step in the process. Not only does this ensure clear communication, but it saves your staff time and eliminates the risk of human error when customers are automatically notified as the centralized returns management system updates.
Tools & Technologies for Managing Omnichannel Returns
Although managing multichannel returns can be complicated, there are tools and technologies available for ecommerce merchants to make the whole process easier to handle.
Here are some of the most effective tools and technologies for managing omnichannel returns:
- Returns management software and apps: These tools allow you to automate the return process, including generating return labels, tracking shipments, and issuing refunds. They also provide real-time updates on the status of returns, making it easier to manage and track returns across all channels.
- Inventory management software and apps: These tools help you maintain accurate inventory levels across all channels, preventing stock-outs and overstocking. They also provide real-time updates on inventory levels, allowing you to make informed decisions about restocking and inventory management.
- Shipping and logistics platforms: These tools help you streamline the shipping and delivery process for returns, ensuring that items are delivered to the correct location and in a timely manner. They also provide real-time tracking information for shipments, allowing you to monitor the progress of returns and ensure that they are delivered on time.
- Customer service tools: These tools help you provide excellent customer service throughout the returns process, including responding to customer inquiries and providing support for issues related to returns. They also allow you to gather feedback from customers about their experience with returns, helping you identify areas for improvement.
- Data analytics tools: These tools help you analyze returns data and identify trends and opportunities for improvement. By monitoring key metrics such as return rates, reasons for returns, and customer feedback, you can identify areas where your return process can be improved and make data-driven decisions about how to optimize your return process.
Streamline Operations for Multichannel Returns
Providing omnichannel returns helps ecommerce retailers provide an exceptional customer experience. However, managing multichannel returns solutions can come with its challenges.
Omnichannel returns make reverse logistics for a company more complicated. That’s why it’s important to have consistent returns policies and a centralized returns management system to keep the supply chain as streamlined and efficient as possible.
Understanding the different types of omnichannel returns and the challenges involved in managing them allows ecommerce merchants to implement the best return practices and utilize the right tools and technologies to streamline the return process and improve customer satisfaction.
Learn more about the tools and technologies available to you that can help to streamline your operations management and improve customer satisfaction by booking a free demo with us today!
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