The peak shipping season may be over, but for most shipping and logistics professionals, there’s no time to sit back and relax just yet. That’s because peak returns season has just begun. During peak returns season, which stretches from approximately January through mid-March, omnichannel retailers and other organizations that ship to consumers, will handle up to 45% of their annual returns volume.

Whether it’s apparel being returned or exchanged for a different item or size, or post-holiday season product recalls, peak returns season is as predictable as the pre-holiday rush. Yet it still presents challenges for many omnichannel retailers. That’s because while the outbound shipping processes required to get products to customers are seen as a direct contributor to profitability and therefore worthy of investment, the returns process is too often seen as “throwing good money after bad.”

At PRECISION, we believe that’s the wrong approach. Returns are becoming a differentiator for retail and other organizations that ship products to customers. Put simply: they’re important to customers and that means they need to be important to your organization as well.

Here’s how you can streamline your returns with PRECISION.

Why Returns Matter

The returns process is important to your business for a variety of reasons. Perhaps most important is the role of returns as a differentiator. Online and omnichannel retail are shaping customer expectations. Customers are not just looking for fast and simple shipments to their home or place of business; they’re looking for a convenient, generous return policy as well.  

Amazon Prime and services like it have been particularly influential in setting the standard for online return policies, with free returns at convenient drop off locations, inexpensive pickup and return labeling services that are easy to use. Popular shoe e-tailer Zappos (now owned by Amazon) offers a 365-day, no-questions-asked return policy and free return shipping. Zalando, a shoe e-tailer in the UK, offers a similarly generous 100-day free return policy with the ability to schedule a one hour pick up window, or return at other convenient parcel drop-off locations.  Even Walmart, which is transitioning from a traditional brick-and-mortar to an omnichannel retailer, offers in-store returns of online purchases and free return by mail within 90 days of receipt.

Recent studies indicate that generous policies like these are a big selling point for customers, with 88 percent of online customers saying that they sought to buy from companies with simple, convenient return options; 55 percent of customers said they expected those return options to be affordable, or better yet, free.

However, when we talk about simplifying returns, we have to ask, “simple for whom?” What seems simple on the customer end is actually fairly complex on the logistics side – especially without the right tools for shipping your products there and back.

Three Strategies for Streamlining Peak Season Returns

Your organization needs a strategy that can support peak season returns, just as you need a strategy for dealing with outbound shipping during the holiday season. Here are three important components to consider.

Use The Right Tools to Facilitate Omnichannel Returns Studies show that consumers are looking for a simple and convenient returns process that delivers a variety of ways to initiate and complete their returns. Software that enables flexibility around the returns process is a key strategy for satisfying these expectations.

With PRECISION Multi Carrier Shipping Software, your organization can provide the flexibility customers are looking for. It supports a Buy Online, Return In Store (BORIS) return policy, which is both convenient for the customer and may allow your organization to recover some of the losses associated with returns when customers purchase additional products.

And, unlike carrier-specific shipping interfaces and third party applications that only manage reverse logistics, PRECISION supports a wider variety of return strategies, such as dropping packages off at a shipping kiosk, carrier drop-off station, or arranging for pickup at the customer’s home or office. You’re not limited to what any single carrier provides.

Plan for Returns – Returns are inevitable. According to the National Retail Federation, more than 10 percent of all retail purchases made during the holidays will be returned. If those purchases are made online, that number triples to more than 30 percent, exceeding 40 percent for women’s apparel. In short, returns are to be expected. So how can you make them as seamless to the customer and inexpensive to your organization as possible?

Customers may like having multiple return options available to them. But that doesn’t mean you want to encourage the use of higher cost options. The key is to encourage customers to select the return shipping options that make the most financial sense for your organization.

One way to do this is to place a return label in the box prior to shipping. Using PRECISION Desktop Shipping Software, you can pre-print the return label to ship with the package, regardless of whether the purchase is made in stores or online. Should the customer opt to return the item, the included label allows them to skip the steps of having to pull up the order on your website or call your customer service center to generate and email a label. The convenience of using the return label provided encourages use of your preferred return service.

Pre-printing labels also minimizes the possibility that the return might be sent to the wrong warehouse and helps your organization recover high-value goods, such as electronics, more quickly so they can be returned to inventory before becoming obsolete.

Think Globally – Final numbers for global trade growth in 2017 aren’t available yet, but it was projected to grow at more than 3.6 percent, up from 2.4 percent in 2016, driven in large part by global e-commerce. Statistics like these indicate that an increasing number of your online sales are likely to be made to overseas customers.

Global trade drives revenue, but complicates returns. That’s because some carrier networks can handle returns better than others and options are often not uniform in all geographic regions. Shipping options available to domestic customers may not be offered elsewhere or may be more limited, such as less frequent pickups and fewer drop off stations.

To maximize appeal to overseas customers, it’s important to work out a returns process that works as well for customers in Europe or Asia as it does for those in North America. PRECISION Multi Carrier Shipping Software can help. Organizations that depend on a single carrier to handle outbound shipments to customers may find it necessary to consider alternate carrier networks for returns. With PRECISION, you can review the return delivery options of hundreds of carriers around the globe and select options that will satisfy customers, while keeping costs under control.

Organizations that want to satisfy customer expectations around returns need a strategy for managing the increased return volumes that come with omnichannel sales. They also need tools that can turn strategy into reality. PRECISION delivers both – ensuring that your packages can journey there and back again, even during peak season.