Customer Returns Automation: A Guide

eCommerce Returns Study, Returns Management, Reverse Logistics

Customer returns automation has become a much-needed tool for electronic commerce and online retail platforms, offering a streamlined solution to reverse logistics and return management operations. This is a natural response to the average rate of e-commerce customer returns, which hovers between 20-30%. Previously struggling to manage the rate of returns manually, these businesses and supply chains now have a viable and efficient option for automating the returns process.

Benefits of Customer Returns Automation

It is almost inevitable that customers will return products, despite it not being the fault of the business. However, automating the customer return process can help online store(s), e-commerce platforms, and brick-and-mortar store retailers have better control over the products being returned. This means these businesses are able to seamlessly:

1. Increase Efficiency

Automation takes care of repetitive tasks such as generating return labels, processing returns, and communicating the different stages of the return process to the consumers. This reduces the number of errors on these tasks and increases the throughput of the entire operation. By freeing the staff to focus on more strategic tasks and activities in the return process, automation empowers businesses to handle the high rate of returns with increased efficiency.

2. Improve Inventory Management

Automation allows for quicker analysis of the returned product and integration back into the system. It also allows for real-time analysis of inventory management, including goods in the store, products on their way to the customers, and product returns on their way back from the customers. All of that will, in turn, allow for effective supply chain planning and a streamlined inventory management process.

3. Save on Cost and Time

Manually managing customer returns can be stressful, time-consuming, and prone to errors, which can cost the business and supply chain a ton of money. By automating the entire process, the entire process is faster, cheaper, and handles way more returns. Automation is a competitive advantage for many of these e-commerce businesses.

4. Enhance Customer Satisfaction

Although a handy reverse logistics and returns management process can appeal to customers, automation makes it a much better experience for them because it provides them with more options, transparency, and a much better turnaround time. All of these are big contributors to customer satisfaction.

Common Features of Customer Return Automation

Different automated customer returns systems will have different features. However, there are some basic features that must be present in any automated system to make it worthwhile. These are:

1. Automated Label Generation

This allows customers to print out return labels that can be used to ship the goods back to the retailers or e-commerce businesses.

2. Seamless Integration

The system or application must be able to sync or integrate with other systems in the supply chain, such as the TMS and WMS.

3. Customizable Returns Portal

The portal is how the customers will interact with the returns management system. It will allow them to initiate, track, get refunds, and claim discounts such as store credits.

4. Real-Time Tracking Updates

The customer returns system should be able to send customers and the business real-time tracking updates for each returned product.

5. Return Automation Rules

Every platform is different, so the rules that define each system for each retail and ecommerce business will differ. The system must be amenable and able to take in and implement new rules as the business and supply chain see fit.

6. Return Analytics and Insights

Any automated customer return system should be able to provide insights and analytics into the returns by customers, including the products being returned, why they are returned, and if the issue is with the customers or the business.

How To Implement Customer Return Automation

For the customer return automation to work for the e-commerce platforms and supply chain management, it will take proper implementation of the system. To do that effectively, the following steps will be critical.

Step 1: Evaluate, Define, and Prepare

Before setting up an automated customer returns system, an effective evaluation of the current return management process must be evaluated to understand how the system will help the business or retailer streamline the entire operation.

Then, the business or supply chain must define exactly what they want. This is where the objectives of the system are answered. It could be to improve efficiency, operate a faster process, or more. By defining expectations, the supply chain can set up the automated system in such a way that it patterns its operation to the style of that supply chain. Businesses are unique in operation and supply chain management, so a one-size-fits-all approach will be workable.

After defining expectations and rules, the next step is to prepare the entire operation and stakeholders to seamlessly adapt to the customer returns automated system. This may include communication, training, and documentation of the returns process.

Step 2: Build The Automation Infrastructure or Choose A Returns Management System

The organization and supply chain can either build its own automated returns management infrastructure, or it can leverage established RMS platforms and adjust it to suit its own unique operations. Either way, there are things that must be in place when setting up customer returns automation.

For starters, there must be a portal. This is where the customers can initiate and track the returns process. The portal will allow customers to generate and print return labels and raise complaints when necessary. After setting up the customer portal, the system must be integrated with existing systems such as WMS and other supply chain applications, including the TMS.

Integrating with other systems ensures the automated return system can streamline reverse logistics and return management operations, including inventory management and sorting.

Step 3: Set The Rules

Rules define the success of any system, so it is important to set the rules on time. Every business is unique and will have unique operations, so the rules will help the system align effectively with the SOPs. This is critical because the wrong rules can cause disruptions in the entire logistics management.

Step 4: Optimize For Better Customer Experience

The platform or customer returns automated system must be optimized for a better customer experience. It must be user-friendly. Customers should be able to initiate the return process with minimal effort on their part. The system must provide customers with clearly outlined options. It could be drop offs at particular locations, pick up, or any other option the business is willing to provide. If customers know how to use and understand the system, it will lead to fewer failed returns and complaints.

The automated system should be able to keep customers informed about the returns process through proactive and automated communications. It could be through emails, SMS, or any other platform that works for all parties. Finally, customers should have access to a tracking feature that shows them every step of the products returned in real-time. It is critical to always emphasize optimal experiences during online sales and returns because it can significantly impact customer loyalty.

Step 5: Test and Enhance

It is important to test the automated returns system before launching. Try it out with a small set of people or customers, review their experience, and find it easy to improve the system. Do this a couple of times and continue to enhance with each review until satisfied with the results and overall returns automation.

Customer Returns Automation With ReverseLogix

Why continue with a slow return process when you can automate it? Customer returns automation helps you realize more value with a more streamlined and effective returns process. And it is possible through ReverseLogix.

We enable customers to make returns from anywhere with a centralized portal and allow you to create custom automation rules that streamline returns decisions. ReverseLogix also enables you to automatically approve straightforward returns based on any sequence of desired rules and automate even the most complicated returns process enforcement. Moreover, ReverseLogix integrates with your entire returns ecosystem across all your 3PL, ERP, or eCommerce tools to make automation value reach even further. Get a demo today.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: Will automation eliminate the need for customer service representatives entirely?

Return automation does not eliminate the need for a customer service team; rather, it helps complement them. The return automation was designed to handle routine tasks, freeing up the team to handle more complex and strategic issues.

Q2: Can automation help reduce the number of customer returns?

This is not a guarantee. However, automation can provide valuable data on return reasons. The retail business and online store can analyze this data to identify trends and implement improvements leading to fewer returns.

Q3: Will automation make the returns process impersonal?

It doesn’t have to. While automation handles repetitive tasks, businesses can still personalize communication through automated emails with a friendly tone and offering helpful resources.

Q4: Does customer return automation improve online purchases and retail e-commerce sales?

Customer return automation helps improve the consumer’s experience, which plays a direct role in ensuring they make more purchases from the platform.