16 January, 2024

8 Returns Management Best Practices to Boost Your Customer Experience

As a product seller, there’s nothing better than delighting your customers and hearing about people who love your merchandise as much as you do. While you may dream that all sales will go that way — and put in the effort to try to make that happen — the truth is that you also have to deal with returns. 

It’s a given that returns are nowhere near as enjoyable as successful sales, but they’re a crucial part of your business. In fact, 97% of sellers believe the returns process significantly impacts sales. 

That makes sense. If you have a confusing or time-consuming returns process, customers don’t want to risk going through it again, so they’ll make their next purchase elsewhere. On the other hand, an easy returns process builds trust and proves to customers that they’ll have a pleasant experience no matter what.

With that in mind, how do you optimize your returns process so it has a positive impact on your business?

Keep reading to learn the returns management best practices you can use to create maximum efficiency and boost customer satisfaction with the help of Cin7.

Why you need a good returns process

Optimizing your returns process is essential for creating a high-quality, well-rounded customer experience and building operational efficiency. As a result, you can drive retention and sales while keeping the cost of returns low.

Returns help define your customer experience

An easy returns process can win you loyal customers, even if the first product they bought from you didn’t work out. It also shows that your relationship with shoppers is more important to you than a single transaction.

On the other hand, difficult returns can make it appear as if you don’t care about customers, which can cost you when it comes to loyalty and repeat purchases. According to a report by the National Retail Federation (NRF), 78% of consumers are less likely to shop with a retailer after having a poor returns experience.

In essence, your brand’s true character shows in the quality of your post-purchase experience, including activities such as returns and exchanges. Because of this, returns can make or break a customer’s experience. If you’re not focused on turning them into a competitive advantage, they may be your Achilles’ heel.

Returns impact operational efficiency

On average, 17.6% of online sales are returned, along with 10% of brick-and-mortar sales. That may not sound like a large amount, but it can have a significant impact on your business. While returns are smaller in volume than sales, they often involve more complicated workflows

The returns process involves a series of interconnected actions and decisions, including issuing refunds and store credit plus inspecting, repairing, replacing, scrapping, and restocking items. If you can’t master returns, they can become a frustrating source of inventory inefficiency

Think about it. The more time your team members spend on each return, the less time they can devote to growth. In contrast, a smooth return process can help you run a tight ship by ensuring product returns don’t interrupt your workflows.

8 best practices to improve your returns process with Cin7

When you optimize your returns process, you want to consider strategies that impact the customer experience and your internal workflows. Here are eight steps you can take for a more effective returns management process that eliminates unnecessary hassle for you and your customers.

1. Create and share a clear returns policy

A well-defined returns and refund policy streamlines decision-making for staff across your business’s branches and makes for a seamless customer experience

Specifically, you want to clearly explain:

  • The acceptable time frame for returns and exchanges
  • How customers should return items, such as in-store or via shipping
  • Your product condition requirements
  • The acceptable return reasons
  • Your refund methods

A clear customer returns policy also helps you set expectations with shoppers before they make a purchase. Sharing your policy and making it easily accessible on your website saves time because your customer service team won’t have to keep answering the same frequently asked questions. 

With Cin7’s Return Merchandise Authorization (RMA) module, you can configure your brand’s return policy, which then serves as a guideline for managing and automating returns.

In addition to posting your policy online, you can include return information in your packaging so customers have it on hand when they receive their orders.

2. Enable self-service returns

Self-service e-commerce returns create a better experience by allowing customers to initiate a return 24/7, and self-service returns also boost operational efficiency by reducing the amount of labor required.

By leveraging Cin7’s platform to enable Connected Inventory Performance (CIP), you can efficiently handle return requests with a self-service option. When you enable Cin7’s RMA module, the system creates a URL your customers can use to ask for a return. They can also start the process by clicking the “return” button on their orders page.

Once they submit a request, it goes to your team for either approval or denial. This way, shoppers can initiate returns without needing to go through a staff member or your customer support portal.

As a result, your team has more time to spend on sales and service, and your customers can get their money back faster. In addition, the quicker you receive items back, the more time you have to resell them, especially when products are seasonal.

3. Automate the returns process

Similar to self-service returns, returns management automation helps you streamline operations while creating a better customer experience

You can automate different parts of the returns process, including:

  • Calculating and issuing refunds
  • Generating return labels
  • Collecting return data
  • Tracking returns

Cin7’s RMA module enables returns process automation, allowing returns managers to approve or deny requests without having to perform every other step in the workflow manually.

4. Leverage omni-channel returns

With the growth of omni-channel sales experiences, more customers expect to be able to buy online and return in-store. In a Happy Returns survey, 54% of consumers said they prefer box-free returns at the retailer’s or a third-party store, making in-person returns more popular than mail-in options. 

For the best in-store returns experience for both staff and customers, ensure you have reliable and user-friendly point-of-sale (POS) software. Cin7’s POS creates a seamless workflow for handling returned items, with options to return for a refund, exchange, or store credit.

Beyond meeting customer expectations, in-store returns reduce reverse logistics costs, such as return shipping and restocking. By allowing for in-store returns, you can also enable easier returns, faster refunds, and new shopping opportunities by increasing foot traffic. 

You can compound these benefits by offering immediate refunds to in-store returners. The Happy Returns report found that 72% of shoppers are more likely to opt for in-person returns if they can receive their refund right away.

5. Track the status of each return

Monitoring returns is as important as tracking customer orders. Opting for a returns management system that enables automatic tracking helps you better monitor each step in your reverse logistics process. As a result, it can keep customers and team members in the loop.

With real-time status updates, your staff can provide better support, and customers can feel more secure in knowing you’ve received their returns and will be issuing the replacement item, store credit, or refund.

6. Offer free return shipping

Free return shipping has evolved from a preference to a need for many people, as 67% of consumers are somewhat or very likely to leave a brand that stops offering it. The good news is that free returns can help boost sales, as the same study found that 81% of customers consider this a significant factor when making a purchase.

That said, it does come at a cost to you. To reduce the financial impact of free return shipping, you can take the following steps: 

  • Offer other options, such as in-store returns
  • Use flat-rate shipping
  • Set a time limit on returns

With Cin7, you can take steps to eliminate inventory inefficiency and unnecessary spending, making it possible to offer perks that give you a competitive advantage, such as free returns.

7. Analyze data from returns

Returns offer a valuable opportunity to learn from your customers by tracking which items they send back and why.

By understanding your highest return drivers, you can start to think about reducing the issues that lead to more returns. With Cin7, you can easily view a list of your returns and filter them by type, status, amount, and branch location. 

You can also figure out which customer groups represent serial returners. Armed with this data, you can take steps to reduce the frequency of returns. For example, you can send post-purchase emails with positive user reviews to reassure serial returners. Alternatively, you can look at frequently returned items and reduce the amount you purchase or phase out those SKUs.

8. Identify opportunities to prevent returns

It’s not possible to eliminate every single return. But you can take steps to reduce controllable returns, such as those caused by sending the wrong item or the package not arriving to the customer in time. Controllable returns often happen because of supply chain or order management issues, such as slow shipping or incorrect orders.

When you use Cin7 to enable CIP, you improve order accuracy and streamline your supply chain processes to ensure more on-time deliveries, allowing you to reduce return rates.

In addition to improving order and fulfillment processes, you can reduce the number of returned products you receive by:

  • Improving your packaging to minimize damage during shipping
  • Ensuring sizing information is accurate and updated
  • Creating more accurate product descriptions
  • Adding more media to your product pages
  • Improving your quality control standards

Streamline operations and boost customer satisfaction with an optimized returns process

No seller loves returns, but you can’t avoid them entirely. They’re a natural part of selling products. That said, you can either take control of your returns or let them become an increasingly bigger thorn in your side. The choice is yours.

Following these returns management best practices and optimizing your return workflows with Cin7 empowers you to manage returns effectively, streamline your operations, and even leverage returns into a competitive advantage with your customers.

To see what an optimized inventory management and returns process can do for your business, try Cin7 today.

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