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Guide to Growth: As a small business, what is the best way to manage a returns process?

The first step is understanding your customer. The way consumers shop is evolving, and shoppers are increasingly adopting a “buy now, return later” approach. Using our homes in the same way we use store changing rooms has become more prevalent – customers view their homes as fitting rooms, and therefore expect the end-to-end service a retailer provides to be as quick and easy as possible.

Drapers’ Guide to Growth programme is produced in partnership with Clipper.

Returns are as old as the retail industry itself, but the process for handling them is critical to solving the new challenges that ecommerce presents. Speed is increasingly the key to keeping consumers happy, and to minimise any loss in profits.

Peter Louden, business solutions director at Clipper, says: “Dealing with returns is a complex operation that needs to be done at speed, working to strict service levels in order to get items back in Grade-A condition, and in turn back into stock during increasingly short sale seasons.”

To speed up process times, Louden suggests doing away with “outdated” models in which a customer must print their own returns labels and seek authorisation for a return: “Customers expect to be provided with pre-printed labels and reusable packaging at the bare minimum.”

The next step is to do away with labels altogether: “We have been seeing an increase in the use of online returns portals across our customer base, meaning carriers are able to introduce label-less technology into the customer process.”

An additional benefit to use of online portals is the consumer data that they can gather, allowing businesses to more accurately predict return volumes.

When returns are done well, they can help increase customer loyalty. Louden explains: “The secret to success, when it comes to returns, is positioning the process as a tool for improving customer experience and increasing your competitive advantage. A good, fast and efficient experience is likely to create repeat orders.”

He says this often requires some work to the infrastructure: “The returns hub needs to be extremely flexible and be interfaced directly to the retailer’s systems, so it can be seamless in operation.”

He adds the use of third-party systems can help: “Clipper’s click-and-collect solution, Clicklink, for instance, provides a cost-effective sortation and delivery service that can guarantee next day, in-store, time-banded delivery for collection by customers. Clipper’s Boomerang returns solution provides a fast service as well as re-labelling, steaming, pressing, quality-checking and repair.”

He suggests that integrating the two could offer customers the convenience of click and collect, while providing the added benefit of process that releases working capital and gets stock back into inventory quickly.

Most crucially, as businesses chose to expand their offerings, they must be clear on their customer returns policy.

“You need to understand your customer demographics, before moving forwards and asking yourself, ‘What are the best return options that would suit my customer?’,” says Louden. “Identifying what your returns and refunds policy should be is paramount. You can then work with your provider to ensure your policy is aligned with their services, including whether they will be able to support cross-border returns.”

Our new advice portal for retailers and brands, Guide to Growth, aims to solve the problems and challenges fashion businesses encounter as they grow. Email your questions to associate editor and we will get them answered. 

Plus, read our Growth in a Changing Economy report here to learn how fast-growth brands and retailers are overcoming barriers to growth. 

In partnership with Clipper

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