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The Visible Value Blog

Managing Returns

Posted by Steve Northcott

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April 28, 2017 at 3:00 AM


This is the third in a series of five blogs about making Click & Collect profitable.

Returns aren’t what they used to be.

Time was, the only publically acceptable reason for returning an item which you had personally chosen and purchased was if it was broken. And in the weeks after Christmas, perhaps, the fact that not all gifts are loved and welcomed was also tolerated as a reason for returning something. But for the most part, shops frowned on returns and would often go out of their way to make the process as difficult and uncomfortable for the customer.

Enter digital. Enter multiple channels or order and fulfilment. Over the last few years there’s been a sea-change in returns.  Shoppers are much more comfortable ordering (for example) three items of different sizes to work out at home which one fits them best.  It has been labelled “taking the fitting room home.” 

The growth of Click & Collect is also feeding directly into the growth of returns. The same staff and the same areas instore which deal with locating and handing over customer parcels are also seeing a vast increase in returns. Indeed, Click & Collect best practice is to let customers try on/try out their goods on the spot, so if there are likely to return them they can go back into stock as quickly as possible, minimising opportunities for damage or loss.

Make no mistake: returns are the future.

What does an efficient returns process look like today?

Given the above, it has to be acknowledged that returns can be problematic for the retailer. With stock going out and being returned through a variety of channels, retailers need to be on top of their inventory management. Knowing where returned stock is and where it is wanted is important for accelerate order fulfilment and to reduce unnecessary stock holdings.

These are the steps of an ideal (by which I mean efficient) returns process:

  • Always enable shoppers to return goods to their nearest store
  • Return sellable goods to stock as soon as possible
  • Enable shoppers to return through any channel (in-store, lockers, pick-up)
  • Scan goods back in using scanners, mobile computers or RFID
  • Use inventory visibility to send goods where they are needed
  • Confirm receipt by email, text or app as the customer prefers
  • Ensure robust guest wi-fi to keep customers connected in your store

This is all about the smart use of technology – mobile devices, handheld printers, personal scanners.  Interactive kiosks can be used to manage returns, which can be facilitated through enabling barcode scanning, label printing, bagging and parcel dropbox all within the kiosk. This helps create personalised experiences that improve the customer experience and keep customers coming back.

‘Tis the season to be efficient

A great deal of retail logistics is about coping with the “extreme seasonality” of Christmas.  No-where is this more important than in Returns, where Boxing Day can see long queues of people eager to return gifts. For retailers, stock bought between Black Friday and December tied up in the returns system, prevents retailers from selling it during the crucial sales season.

Get the full picture

Managing returns profitably is the third step (of three) on the journey to efficiency, each of which are explored in much more detail in Zebra’s new eBook “Three Steps to Click & Collect Profitability” which you can download now.

Topics: Retail, EMEA, Click and Collect