Don’t forget the returns

As noted in a recent Ti brief, Getting it right in time for the 2014 holiday season, UPS is re-tooling and tweaking its network to prepare for faster, more efficient deliveries. Indeed, with more positive sales predictions coming out regarding this holiday season, a robust delivery network will be required.

While efficient and timely delivery will be heavily scrutinized, how returns are managed will be too. Ignoring returns can prove costly for a retailer and logistics provider. On the other hand returns management can become a competitive differentiator among retailers as well as among logistics providers. According to The Retail Equation, for 2013, the average return rate for brick-and-mortar retailers was 8.6% while return rates for online retailers can be as high as a third of sales depending on item.

One such retailer is Sears. Despite its financial woes, Sears has proven forward thinking in introducing solutions such as buy online, pick up in store initiative more than 12 years ago, in-store returns for online purchases and now for its Shop Your Way members and customers, it has added returns and exchanges to its In-Vehicle Pickup service. The service, available by its Shop Your Way mobile app, allows members to pick-up, return or exchange their purchases for free – guaranteed within five minutes or less – without leaving their vehicle.

According to the press release, to begin the process, a customer visits, clicks on the customer service link, chooses “Returns & Exchanges,” and then follows the prompts to identify the return item(s). For an exchange, the member selects a new item and when the replacement is ready for pickup, the retailer sends an email confirmation.

The member will then go to the Sears location that they selected, parks in a designated In-Vehicle Pickup area, and uses the Shop’In feature on the Shop Your Way mobile app to alert the store that he/she has arrived. A timer will start on the mobile device, and within five minutes, an associate will arrive and complete the return or exchange.

Another recent returns management announcement is from FedEx. According to its press release, FedEx Global Returns provides retailers the ability to manage their customers’ returns by offering editable return labels, customs documentation and flexible returns destinations via FedEx Express or FedEx Ground. As e-commerce grows and expands cross-borders, this type of service will become more important and useful for retailers.

Much like an efficient and timely delivery, a successful returns management is another important component for the retail supply chain and for customer satisfaction. So, while there is great interest and concern getting that parcel to the customer via one-hour, same day or two day delivery, don’t forget the supply chain flows both ways and returns management is equally important.