3 technology options for returns-hit retailers

The challenge in ecommerce is for retailers to truly harness the customer loyalty and recurring purchase benefits from customer-centric returns offerings, without experiencing excessive short-term costs. To achieve this, many online retailers are looking to technology solutions which can make their returns journey more customer friendly and efficient.

This post is part of our series on eCommerce Returns. Check out our master Guide to eCommerce Returns for a full insight on how to improve your customer experience and make returns more profitable.

Here are three examples of technology deployments which make returns less costly for retailers in the short term, improve the customer experience throughout their purchase and return journey, and give retailers useful insights and control over their reverse logistics.

In store returns/self-service

As we’ve covered elsewhere, customers expect to be able to return online purchases to store locations, and retailers are keen to draw customers back to stores to recapture their spend. In-store returns is a no-brainer from this perspective. However, the logistical challenges can cause some hesitation for retailers.

One of the ways to minimise the disruption and excess use of store colleagues’ time is with self-service returns hardware. Similar to collection lockers, customers can scan in their return through an interface on the pod, which then accepts the return and opens a storage space for the item. The software which books and accepts returns in this way can hook into logistics management systems like warehouse/order management software (WMS/OMS) in order to keep everything tracked.

Digital returns portal

Self-service returns are typically powered by a broader software solution known as a returns portal, which allows customers to book returns, see local drop-off points, print labels and view returns policies all in one place.

The biggest immediate change with a digital returns experience is the cost saving of hundreds of thousands or millions of paper returns labels in parcels. Most of these are wasted anyway, but with a returns portal none need to be printed at all, saving tens of thousands in wasteful and unsustainable practices immediately.

From a strategic perspective, retailers using branded returns portals can take fuller ownership of the customer journey rather than leave this in the hands of logistics partners. Additionally, digitising returns means retailers have access to valuable data about the scale and nature of returns – which products are returned more often; which customer segment is more likely to return products and why, and how long it takes returns to be back in stock available for purchase. These are useful and actionable data points which can often be blind spots for retailers reliant on paper-based returns systems or outsourced returns portals.

Communications platform

Similarly to the use of a returns platform or portal, having a single branded experience for customer communications is a powerful lever for brands to simplify and improve the customer journey. Whether they’re receiving a delivery or finding out where to drop off a return, customers can still feel that the retailer is investing time and care in getting it right, thanks to the unified experience.

This just matches up with the reality that customers don’t think of your logistics partners as separate to your retail business – shoppers purchasing from your brand associate the whole journey from acquisition to returns with the brand. Taking ownership and control over the entire experience is the first step for retailers to improve their returns journey and benefit from the increased loyalty and revenue it can drive.

free returns ebook download

Having a communications platform which ties into the returns data we talked about above can also tie up the lifecycle of the customer, linking the returns process back into acquisition with smart marketing offers based on the customer segment, returns profile and recommended products. Similar to the benefits from driving customers to stores to do their returns, marketing effectively at this stage can help to recover revenue quickly by encouraging replacement purchases.

Changing attitude to logistics

Of course, technology alone will not provide a panacea for retailers. Before implementing technology, they need to have a grasp on the variety of shopping and returns journeys that their customers experience in order to understand where their weaknesses may lie.

There’s also the challenge of adopting a new customer-centric approach to logistics, which is often treated as a pure cost centre where the only objective is to spend as little as possible.

However, technology has a major role to play in overcoming the challenges retailers face with returns, and not just in terms of efficiency and process. Enabling entirely new offerings like in-store self-service returns and direct marketing to shoppers returning products changes the dynamic of returns for retailers and clarifies the link between offering returns and generating long term revenues.