Although returned inventory can give you retail opportunities, such as speaking with your customers to offer them alternative products, it would be great if you could guarantee 100% customer satisfaction and a 0% return rate on your products. But let’s be realistic for a minute - achieving that is just not possible.
If you are receiving inventory back into your warehouse, what does that mean for you as a modern retailer? Specifically, Marketwatch have analyzed the friction and costs involved in offering free returns. Independent retailers often try to compete with the likes of Amazon and other big box retailers by offering a first class, personalized customer experience. They could, however, have concerns with offering free returns when keeping up with the larger retailers. In this particular discussion, our answer is short and sweet. The bar has been set and it should be considered that free returns are simply the cost of doing business today.
With all of that said though, you can take steps to reduce your return rate and thus, negate some of the effects of offering free returns in the first place. Let’s discuss...
Tip #1: Survey your customers
If customers are given a return slip in the box, it’s a great idea to capture the reason for return at this point. A few check boxes on the returns label, so your customers can quickly let you know the reasons behind why they’re returning an item will allow you to learn from this ready for next time. These check box options can include wrong size, wrong color, faulty or changed mind. And remember that over two thirds of American shoppers surveyed said they wanted a returns label in the box!
Tip #2: Optimize your product listings and images
Ensure that your product listings contain all necessary information about the item, including details about size, color, material and style. Consider adding sizing and fitting guides to your website if you sell clothing (this is especially applicable for any items sold in ‘subjective’ sizes such as small, medium and large). Invest in good product images that show an item’s best features as well as what it looks like from various angles. You may even want to start using videos to showcase your products too!
Tip #3: Ensure quality checks happen before items are shipped
Before shipping the goods out of your warehouse, employ someone to check parcels to ensure the correct items are shipped. If your quality assurance team notice that items are regularly mis-packed - investigate the causes behind this. Have you got the correct barcode labels on your products? Are the stock keeping units (SKUs) correct across all items?
Tip #4: Report on which items are ‘big returners’
Ensure that you are reporting on which items are being returned. Do you notice specific items or specific brands result in high return rates? Consider investigating these items and whether they are of a particularly low quality - you may need to source a new vendor or manufacturer!
Tip #5: Invest in appropriate packaging
You may find that inventory is returned due to it being damaged in transit. Ensure your packaging is of a high quality and appropriate for the particular product. For example, are more fragile items such as glassware, ceramics or electronics arriving broken? Are clothing items becoming wrinkled? Rethinking your packaging could be a simple way to reduce your number of returns.
Returned inventory in retail is inevitable, especially once you realize that we’re in the middle of an era of customers expecting free returns and for the returns process to be simple, streamlined and easy for them. However, you can reduce your return rates with the help of these tips and still continue to offer the high level of customer service the changing world of retail dictates you have.
This was the final part of our mini-series about returned inventory. Did you miss parts 1 and 2? Check them out now:
Concerned about missing more advice, tips and tricks for your omnichannel retail business? Subscribe to our blog to receive the latest content direct to your inbox.