Reverse logistics are often an animal that no company particularly wants to handle, but for anyone in ecommerce, it’s necessary. No matter how efficient you are at picking the correct items, packaging well, and shipping, there will always be customers who decide to return an item for one reason or another. And reverse logistics aren’t necessarily cheap. They’re an added cost that must be factored in to ecommerce budgets.
When product arrives at a distribution center, this is the first part of a long line of checking to ensure that the product a customer sees on the shelves is in its best condition. This means checking the quality of the product when it arrives at a 3PL, re-checking the product when it’s picked, and checking the product a third time when it is returned to store for any reason.
Customer returns aren’t something that anyone in the business of logistics wants to think about, but they’re a necessity. You probably hate the idea that a customer got something and doesn’t like it enough to keep it or, even worse, received the incorrect item to begin with. On top of that, returns are tricky. They require exact reverse logistics as well as excellent customer service to ensure that the customer ends up happy and will shop with you again. Round it out with the fact that returns are expensive, and you’ll understand why returns are easy to want to ignore. Fortunately, there are a number of great ways that many retailers and their e-commerce fulfillment partners are reducing the cost of customer returns.
They sneak up on us every year, don’t they? The holidays are back again: the time of year where we get together with our families, eat huge meals, exchange gifts, and reflect on some of the great times we’ve had over the past year. Of course, in distribution, the holidays also mean that warehouses get heavily stocked to prepare for the holiday shopping seasons, and beef up numbers in the warehouse to make sure all of the items are going out exactly where they need to go. And while it’s great to reflect back on the previous year during the holidays, it’s also a time to look forward, and for many retailers, prepare for returns.
Earn your customer’s loyalty through e-commerce. Each transaction is a chance for you to show your commitment to customer service so that they feel like they have a personal relationship with your company, even when there is no face-to-face interaction. Minimizing shipping errors may be the single most important way to achieve this loyalty, because many customers are doubtful that an entirely electronic transaction will be hassle-free. But if you can make this happen smoothly, they’ll be more likely to order through you again. Shipping errors will happen due to a high volume of orders, and it’s impossible to guarantee that every order out of hundreds of thousands will be perfect. But here’s why and how you should reduce them.
Returns are costly, in more ways than one. Reverse logistics are time consuming and can get complicated. They require full-time employees who are able to focus on processing. The longer they take to process, the more likely it is that the customer who is waiting for a replacement or a refund gets upset and decides to never shop with that retailer again.
Simply getting items in a box and out the door, or in the case of returns, out of the box and back on the shelves are the two most basic functions in e-commerce fulfillment. But even those two most basic of ideas can be quite complex. Let’s dive into these core processes and examine where the costs add up.
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.