A return by any other name: the bigger picture

It’s fair to say that e-commerce returns is a global challenge amongst retailers large and small. The complexity, expense and polluting nature of the reverse logistics points to large scale inefficiency. This challenge is now an imperative to solve for the good of the bottom line, and the planet.

Between us, e-commerce returns are just the tip of the iceberg. If we consider “returns” in the broadest possible sense, as an umbrella term for “any item that goes back”, suddenly, we can see that in the post-purchase experience, this definition extends to multiple additional scenarios.

The things that go back

We can break the things that go back into two main categories:

Consumer initiated returns

These include e-commerce returns that are instigated and triggered by the customer. This can happen for multiple reasons. Examples include buyer’s remorse, the item doesn’t meet expectations, the wrong item arrived, the purchase arrived too late, the item is faulty or may have parts broken or missing. The return reasons may vary. The response to these returns by the returns management software should also diversify.

Brand initiated returns

This is a broader category that can be (but shouldn’t be) overlooked. This is usually triggered by the retailer or brand, although in some circumstances may be instigated by the consumers themselves. This includes:

Product recall. A flaw of different sorts and severity is found in an item. This may be life-threatening, like a battery that is found to spontaneously combust, or a high chair that can topple over, ingredients that are inadvertently added that contain known allergans, items for which strains of bacteria or virus have been discovered, post purchase. A flaw can also be rudimentary and not life threatening, a bracelet whose clasp is faulty or a bag in which a zipper gets stuck. If enough attention is brought to these issues by consumers, or if the retailer has a quality and longevity mind set, they will use these as opportunities for continuous improvement and brand building

Trade-ins, trade ups and renewal. We are in a day and age of subscription and rental. When consumers are largely satisfied with the brand they use, they will express this with their loyalty in trading in, and or upgrading their items. When they are satisfied with the service provided by the retailer, they will continue to entrust the care and quality of their items to the experts.

Overstock and uncollected BOPIS items. What doesn’t sell, essentially needs to be returned. What is overlooked and/or forgotten by the consumer post-purchase, also needs to make its way back into the retailers’ purview.

Whether initiated by the brand or by the consumer, there are some serious draw-backs to the existing infrastructure in dealing with these items. They typically rely on global policies, and uni—directional postal stickers or 3PL handling of these items in the most rudimentary manner. In other words, in today’s status quo, no matter what is sent back, the process is almost always literally and figuratively backwards.


Forward thinking for the things that go backwards

It’s time to do more than the bare minimum when it comes to “returns”. No matter what the item, or who initiated it, your returns management software should include on the-fly, real-time decision making that takes into account costs, the actual item being returned, who the returner is, as well as efficiency indices and markers for required resources, expenses, partners and sustainability.

Different types of returns may require different types of carriers, are you returning chocolate with a hint of salmonella, a lithium battery, or a pair of shoes?

Different types of returns may require different routes, does the smart device need to be reset to factory defaults, is the leather bag faulty, can the dress set be resold quicker if it is sent  to a local store or back to the warehouse?

Your software, like OtailO, should be robust and flexible enough to acknowledge the return, aggregate data around it, ensure an accessible quality check and navigate that item to the next best shelf.


The bigger picture is bigger that we imagine

E-commerce returns may be on the agenda right now, but it is only one wave in the post-purchase tide of the “things that go back”. OtailO leverages understanding of the industry and  multiple data sets. This combines WITH differentiated technology to transform the backwards journey. Every return is an opportunity to engage, improve, and grow the brand eco-system. So, while the returns picture is bigger that we imagine, the way forward is clearer, more beneficial, and more profitable, than ever before.


Photo by SIMON LEE on Unsplash