Tis the Season for Taking the Hassle Out of Retail Returns

Dustin Caudell
Mon, Dec 28, 2015
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Refunds are a little more difficult to handle online than in person.

No-hassle returns are a great way to demonstrate commitment to customer service. Providing consumers with the ability to bring back products that don't satisfy them shows a company invests in their happiness. In recent years, a hassle-free return policy has gone from a nice feature for attracting customers to a necessary business practice.

To provide modern consumers with the return policies they expect from online and brick-and-mortar stores, companies need to ensure their supply chain can handle products moving in multiple directions. A flexible inventory and warehouse management strategy helps a company reduce the costs of returns and collect data to prevent future occurrences.

The Importance of a Hassle-Free Return Policy
A hassle-free return means if a customer isn't happy with a product, he or she doesn't jump through hoops to exchange the merchandise for a refund. The practice plays into modern consumers' desire for convenience.

When shopping online, customers will abandon purchases if retailers don't provide them with the service they demand. In 2013, the United Parcel Service and ComScore created a "Pulse of the Online Shopper" report for the holiday season. The study found returns were on the rise and the ability to offer a hassle-free return policy was a major incentive for online shoppers. Sixty-six percent of respondents to the report said they always checked a retailer's return policy before making a purchase. A hassle-free return offering had a huge impact on 74 percent of buying decisions and 64 percent of shoppers said they would recommend a business based on how well it handled refunds and exchanges.

The most important feature consumers wanted from a return policy was free shipping to send products back to online retailers. After that, shoppers wanted to receive refunds and exchanges quickly and return merchandise without too many questions or difficult forms.

Putting the Hassle on Retailers
Removing obstacles from the paths of consumers means retailers have to shoulder the costs and tasks required to perform returns. The Wall Street Journal detailed how providing consumers with hassle-free shipping is a necessary evil that adds up for most businesses.

Some organizations use top-line delivery companies to ship products to customers, but can't afford to have the same partners pick up merchandise. Businesses might use UPS to deliver items overnight, and then use a cheaper company to bring the product back much slower. Companies that use their own fleets either need to offer their vehicles for returns or take on the cost of the consumer's return shipping.

Other problems may occur when there isn't quick communication between stores and warehouses. Distribution centers may resupply locations that have stockpiles of returned goods. When consumers don't want to answer questions about returns, the company doesn't know why merchandise fails to satisfy needs.

Thanks to the wide variety of retailers that offer their products online; if a company doesn't offer hassle-free returns, consumers can easily find one that does. Businesses have to find ways to overcome challenges associated with returns.

Visibility of a back and forth supply chain
When stores offer a hassle-free return policy, they need to have supply chain solutions in place to deal with unpredictable consumer behaviors. Speed and information are two critical factors that managers must prioritize when shopping for a warehouse and inventory management system.

Warehouses need data collection devices. Pen and paper procedures can't keep up with the flow of the modern active supply chain. Mobile devices that can report, capture and display information from daily activities provides all users with the details they need to anticipate supply chain obstacles - especially when automated data collection feeds information into a single source.

Every section of the supply chain needs consistent data. Brick-and-mortar stores, delivery trucks, warehouses and online staff members must work with the same inventory numbers. If any company employee receives a return, he or she must report the activity to the rest of the business. Staff members armed with automated data collection solutions can record the details of each return. If individual consumers are not forthcoming with return details, consistent recording will demonstrate trends from which managers can glean information.

When companies use multiple trucks or work with partners, observing daily data collection in a single display allows businesses to compare finances from different sources and see if solutions are sustainable. With enough information, companies can ensure any business practice is worth the company's investment.

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