E-commerce fulfillment isn’t all just filling orders, though piecing together an order can be complex all on its own. There’s the stocking, the picking, the sorting, the packing, and the shipping, and that all has to be done quickly and efficiently to make sure the right people receive the right products. When there are thousands of orders coming in, that’s a lot to keep straight. But there’s more. There’s the whole operation working in reverse. Not every order that gets fulfilled stays that way. Some people change their minds about what they ordered by the time they get it. Others might actually receive the wrong item if something went awry in the fulfillment process. So they return the product. C’est la vie, right? Well, hang on a second.
The Return Process
There are just as many logistics that go into a returned item as there are that go into fulfilling an order. Once the item comes in, it has to be inspected to make sure it can be returned. For example, if a pair of shoes has already been worn, they can’t be returned under most policies. If the item can be returned, it still has to be inspected for defects or flaws, depending on why it was returned. If the customer requested a replacement, then you have to do that quickly, or if not, issue a refund. Inventory has to be updated, and the item has to be restocked.
If that seems simple, keep in mind that all of this has to be done while still managing the thousands of orders that are coming in. And you probably won’t be dealing with just one return, but rather many, and they can pile up quickly. A good e-commerce fulfillment partner should be able to help you both fulfill orders and process the returns.
More than just processing returns, though, a really good e-commerce fulfillment partner gets to know your product really well. If there’s a specific item that’s being constantly returned, they may be able to alert the manufacturer to a flaw that’s causing the returns. Whether the size tags are marked incorrectly or it doesn’t come with a specific power adapter, there are ways to discover consistent issues and use them to prevent future returns. Because ultimately, that’s the goal: to reduce the number of returns you’re handling.
If a retailer is trying to fulfill from a store, the process can become even more complicated. While it’s imperative to have one dedicated employee doing fulfillment, it also becomes important to have a dedicated employee handling online returns. Depending on the number of stores out there, that can get expensive. E-commerce fulfillment partners, on the other hand, usually have a part of their staff dedicated to processing returns. They know exactly what to look for and how to get the item back into the system as needed.
While you may want to outsource your e-commerce fulfillment as well as your returns processing, look for a partner who’s able to do both well. Reverse logistics are every bit as important as forward logistics.