The not-so-new online face of retail has already transformed most aspects of the path to purchase for consumers, and almost every part of the sales process for retailers. And the cogs in the retail machine that weren’t already phased out by new technology are showing why they no longer belong. One such example? Manual product returns, especially those nestled in an otherwise completely digitized ecommerce space.
New, small and entirely online retail businesses are popping up by the hundreds of thousands (if not millions!) each year, and while most of them won’t expand beyond their garage or a quaint storage unit any time soon, those that begin to scale their production must also scale their customer service framework.
Naturally, the design and quality of your products is important, but customer service and the loyalty it delivers when done right, can make or break your business. Manual returns are often prone to human error and significantly slower processing times; they can get in the way of providing a positive experience for already disgruntled customers. Automation is increasingly filling in the gaps of the retail experience and returns could also greatly benefit from this technology.
Automated returns, like other facets of retail automation, save time and money for business owners, and today, many platforms provide real-time tracking and organizational tools that increase visibility into your customer service efficiency. For entrepreneurs and their employees, these improvements give you the freedom to focus on scaling your business and leveraging your new tools to grow the volume and loyalty of your customers.
To help shave off the operational tedium of manual returns, consider one or a combination of the tools below to streamline your returns process and your customer service offerings at large:
- Start simple with prepaid, pre-printed return labels. They give customers a convenient and cost-free way of returning unwanted items. It also enables you to better categorize the kinds of returns being handled, from faulty products being returned on a warranty to a product exchange for an indecisive customer. Automation can — and should — start with the simple things.
- Invest in a POS system that eliminates any lack of visibility in the purchasing process. Not only does it become simple to keep track of purchasing data from all customers, but it can help to identify bad actors and troublemaking customers abusing refunds on certain products.
- Implement a warehouse management system (WMS) to better track inventory, plan delivery routes and organize storage so you can process both standard product deliveries and returns seamlessly. This becomes particularly important as your business grows and double-checking every shipment manually becomes a challenge.
- Enable customers to handle their own returns through a dedicated portal. These portals significantly reduce the need for added effort from your customer service staff to manage customer feedback, while automatically handling the return and generating valuable data from the customer base for you.
- Keep customers warm with automated email updates and responses. As tools like returns portals make the process more of a self-service experience, customers need to feel that they’re still being taken care of by the business. Ensuring proactive communication takes place on the status of their deliveries and returns builds a vital layer of trust for your future interactions.
While each of these tools can be an incredibly impactful addition to a business’ technology portfolio, they’re often at their best when complementing each other. Platforms like Builder.ai also provide the opportunity to utilize several of these solutions under one umbrella, making it easier to get started. Such a rapidly improving ecommerce experience heightens customer expectations each and every year, so automation will be the inevitable solution to small business owners’ question: “How do we grow from here?”
While returns processes may seem like a trivial piece of the retail puzzle, they can provide a significant return on investment when you address them proactively.
Sachin Dev Duggal is a serial entrepreneur who created the AI-powered platform Builder.ai to make building software as easy as ordering pizza. Duggal started his career at the age of 14 building PCs, and by 17 he had built one of the world’s first automatic currency arbitrage trading systems for Deutsche Bank. He started a cloud computing company, Nivio, when he was 21 and still at university (Imperial College), taking it to just under $100 million in valuation before exiting (he still holds a trademark for the word “cloud” in India). Duggal was the World Economic Forum Tech Pioneer in 2009, Entrepreneur.com’s Serial Entrepreneur of the Year and a finalist in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year.