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A Guide to Handling Fulfillment Customer Returns

There was a time when holiday returns were limited to things like that “adorable” sweater your Aunt Edna bought you – or that ultra-loud toy some well-meaning relative bought your kids

Not anymore.

Handling Customer Returns: A Guide for Holiday Peak Season

According to a study conducted by Oracle, 77% of shoppers plan to return a portion of their holiday purchases this year – and 20% of them expect to return more than half of their holiday purchases.

That’s a whole lot of returns and a whole lot of reasons why your company needs to be sure that it’s not putting its head in the sand about this particular peak season challenge. 

In fact, we’re going to go out on a limb here and say that a responsive and customer-friendly returns process has become one of this season’s holiday must-haves. 

Which begs the question: What does such a process look like, and how can your fulfillment center help?

Four Ways to Manage Customer Returns During Peak Season

For starters, it comes with easy to open, durable packaging that’s designed to make two transits rather than one. Such packaging will enable customers to avoid the inconvenient and frustrating step of having to purchase a new box or polybag in order to send an item back.

It also comes complete with easy-to-access instructions – inserted prominently into each shipment -- about how to return an item. Many companies put a returns form on the back of a packaging slip, which works well. Others provide a link to a website where consumers can complete a form and then print out a pre-paid, fully metered mailing label; customers can then stick the label on and drop the item off at the nearest post office, UPS or Fed Ex location, and they’re done.

And of course, it involves a liberal refund policy that allows customers to return an item for almost any reason (including “I changed my mind.”)

It also involves speed, as most consumers tend to want their refunds issued yesterday, no matter how recently they sent their packages back.

You’re on your own with the first three criteria. But your fulfillment provider can be of tremendous help with the fourth one, especially if it’s equipped with robust systems that can confirm real-time receipt of a returned item (and immediately set the refund process in motion) –  and if it has trained personnel who can inspect incoming packages and make accurate on-the-spot decisions about whether the contents can be:

  • Returned to inventory as is;
  • Repackaged and then returned to inventory;
  • Sent to the designated location of your company’s choice;
  • Donated/disposed of/destroyed per your business rules;

How 3PLs Can Help Reduce Your Customer Returns

That same provider can also provide you with some tips for how to ensure the fulfillment side of the customer experience is as top-notch as it can be so that fewer customers have cause to return their purchases due to orders being delivered late, incomplete, inaccurate or damaged. Such recommendations (if implemented) won’t prevent all of your returns, to be sure. But they will help reduce a good number of them – and in an era where it’s not unusual for reverse logistics to cost significantly more than outbound order fulfillment, every reduction helps.

Ask the Experts

Believe it or not, we’ve finally come to the end of this special holiday series from Verst. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as we’ve enjoyed writing it. And, now that we’re better acquainted, we hope you’ll feel free to visit our blog and website more often, but only after you’ve taken a well-deserved break.

On behalf of all of us at Verst, we wish you a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, and a happy new year. May the time you spend with family and friends be nothing short of wonderful – and may all of the memories you make be utterly fulfilling.

The 12 Days of Peak Season

Read all the blog posts from this 12-part series. Please click on a link below to read more on the challenges that fulfillment centers face and our recommendations to make improvements to your facility's throughput, productivity and profitability during the peak holiday season:

Day 1 of 12: Some Shoppers Who Wanted Shipping Free (The Problem Of Low-Cost Shipping)

Day 2 of 12: Two Urgent Moves (The Challenge Of Fast Holiday Shipping)

Day 3 of 12: Three Missed Bins (The Problem Of Inaccurately Filled Orders)

Day 4 of 12: Four Appalling Words (The Challenge Of Late Or Delayed Shipments)

Day 5 of 12: Five Broken Things (The Problem Of Damaged Shipments)

Day 6 of 12: Six Trucks Delaying (Shipping Delays & Dock Congestion)

Day 7 of 12: Seven Systems Slowing - (IT's Role in Inventory Management)

Day 8 of 12: Eight Costs A-Growing (Rising Fulfillment Fees)

Day 9 of 12: Nine Places Snowing (How to Avoid Holiday Shipping Delays)

Day 10 of 12: Ten Ads A-Hyping (A Guide to Handle Flash Sales)

Day 11 of 12: Eleven Shoppers Griping (Resolving Customer Complaints)

Fulfillment, Peak Season

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