Ecommerce returns management: Best practices for handling returns

The first step in ecommerce returns management is recognizing that how you handle ecommerce returns not only affects the returns department, it impacts your entire post-purchase customer experience.

Make the most of your ecommerce returns process with these best practices for return policies, package and refund tracking, customer communication and marketing opportunities.

Wed Jun 16 18:10:00 EDT 2021

Crafting a precisely worded returns policy

Managing ecommerce returns begins with your return policy. No single policy works for every ecommerce business and its customers. An electronics retailer might want to avoid a “no questions asked” policy for obvious reasons, but it might be exactly what a fashion retailer needs to remain competitive.

Your policy should be unique to your business, but there are still ecommerce return policy best practices that need to be followed:

  • Make your return policy easy to find on your website. Consider including links to it in your site’s footer, FAQs and final checkout page.

  • Don’t leave any room for misinterpretation. At a minimum, every return policy should include the following information:
  1. Clear guidelines for what can be returned
  2. How many days they have to make a return
  3. Destination of the return (especially important for cross-border returns)
  4. How they will be refunded (credit or exchange)
  5. How long it takes to receive a refund
  6. Who’s responsible for paying the return shipping

Remember that every return policy is a branding opportunity. The policies outlined and the tone used reflects your brand.

Tracking returns and refunds

There’s one best practice that streamlines the ecommerce returns process for customers, call center, and reverse logistics teams alike: trackable return labels.

  • Consumers: Include an easy way to get a prepaid return label with every item you ship and watch retention rates rise. Consumers also love features like automated tracking notices that keep them up to date on the status of their returns and refunds.
  • Call centers: Return labels with smart tracking features reduce the number of calls customer service takes from anxious customers about the status of their refunds.
  • Reverse logistics teams: The moment a carrier scans a trackable return label, operations know exactly what’s heading their way and can plan docking and labor needs in advance of its arrival.

Branding the returns experience

This one line should be embraced as both an ecommerce returns mantra and best practice:

Every step in the ecommerce returns process is a branding opportunity.

From initiating a return to receiving a refund, a customer is experiencing your brand at each touch point—or at least they should be.

Keep the communications flowing, from notifying customers their return was accepted to letting them know when they’ll receive credit for it. And reinforce your brand every step of the way. Your tracking portal, return labels, shipping materials and confirmation emails can all be customized. Don’t have a tracking portal or automated email system that includes notifications about returns and refunds? There’s software and services for that.

Take advantage of the ecommerce returns process to create a rich post-purchase experience, and your customers will return the favor with repeat purchases and loyalty.

Consider third-party returns services

All the tips and best practices offered here will improve returns handling at your in-house department, but these strategies also apply when working with a third-party returns services provider. If you are struggling to keep up with your returns processing, particularly around holiday peaks, consider outside support.