Omnichannel and eCommerce retailers must focus on eCommerce return solutions given the high percent of online purchases that are returned. Once upon a time, fulfillment centers would let returned items pile up in some unused corner of the warehouse until busy associates found time to process them. But the sheer volume of returns during the current eCommerce boom now makes them impossible to ignore.
Some retailers credit customers immediately for returned items, while others may wait until the returned item gets scanned in at a fulfillment center. Either way, an expectation has developed for processing returns within 24 to 48 hours. While some eRetailers retain control of their own returns management practices, most online businesses get help from a third-party logistics (3PL) partner.
Common Mistakes When Selecting an eCommerce Return Solutions Partner
While fulfillment 3PLs may offer order management and fulfillment capabilities, not all offer solid eCommerce returns solutions. So be careful when vetting providers that you will rely upon for returns processing. Here are some common mistakes eCommerce sellers make when looking for a partner for order fulfillment and returns processing.
- Failing to estimate return needs correctly. Some specific product types don’t get returned often, while many consumer products sold online will generate 20% to 30% returns. If your business sells a wide range of products that commonly get returned by consumers, then you need a fulfillment partner that provides eCommerce returns processing as a core service, rather than as a value-added capability.
- Trying to process returns manually. Your 3PL requires some level of technology to process returns efficiently. Attempting to process thousands of returns manually with a paper log is a waste of valuable time and labor. Instead, every return should be scanned when it arrives to facilitate fast, accurate processing – just like an outgoing order. This level of visibility speeds up returns management and improves inventory management.
- Viewing returns as a separate problem. Product returns are an inevitable part of eCommerce operations. Relegating returned items to a silo keeps valuable information away from sales, marketing, production, packaging, and other stakeholders that can benefit from data about which items get returned the most, and why.
Best Practices for eCommerce Return Solutions
Some fulfillment providers will stand apart in their returns offerings. When selecting a logistics partner that offers eCommerce return solutions, make sure it adheres to these best practices:
- Good labor planning. Your 3PL should know how to plan for peak periods. For example, some fulfillment providers will cut temporary staff at the end of the year once peak holiday sales wind down. However, an experienced fulfillment partner knows to keep some of that additional staff through the high-volume returns period that follows. Failing to do so will result in slow returns processing and increased errors by overworked warehouse staff.
- Dedicated returns space in the fulfillment center. Your fulfillment center should have space devoted to returns storage and processing. This practice ensures that returned items remain a key focus, alongside outgoing orders. When a 3PL has a dedicated returns area in its warehouse, this is a good sign that efficient processing of eCommerce returns is a core competency.
- Appropriate technology in place. When processing high volumes of returns, a fulfillment provider should use automated scanning technically that systematically scans returns and enters them into the warehouse management system (WMS). This process provides visibility as soon as the returned item enters the warehouse. The 3PL may also have eCommerce return solutions in place for inspecting products, generating customer credits, repackaging items, or disposing of damaged items. The ideal mix of these technologies may vary by product type and return volume.
- Existing standard operating procedures (SOP). A good fulfillment 3PL will have SOPs for returns management activities that help avoid mistakes and misunderstandings regarding returned items. For example, the SOP should define the methodology used to determine whether a return gets restocked, donated, liquidated, or thrown out. Standardizing returns management procedures can help to improve warehouse associate productivity, create a safer work environment, and avoid wasting time and money.
Returns Management From Amware Fulfillment
Amware Fulfillment offers eCommerce return solutions as a core service. In addition, we offer demos of our WMS and returns portal to familiarize our customers with our returns practices. Contact us to see how Amware Fulfillment can help you get your eCommerce returns under control.