In an increasingly multichannel retail world it is essential for businesses to provide delivery options that make customers happy, but CEO of online health & beauty retailer Feelunique.com Aaron Chatterley argues that the way a company deals with product returns is also vitally important to its future.
Depending on the time of year, up to 10,000 parcels leave the Feelunique distribution centre in Jersey, destined for addresses across the UK and the rest of the world.
Reliable and timely shipping of goods is the cornerstone of any e-tailer operation.
Get it right and consumers will reward you with repeat orders. Get it wrong, even once, and the customer will turn to one of your rivals.
Online retail is thriving because of ease of use and the time saving it provides the consumer. Most of us know the hassle of dealing with an unreliable e-tailer, so it is vital to deal with returns in an efficient manner.
On rare occasions, we get items returned. Sometimes an item is damaged in the post or for whatever reason, the customer is not happy with the delivery.
As all online retailers know, there are a very small number of people who claim never to have received the delivery - although the bad weather last Christmas caused some serious problems. In those instances we are happy to send a duplicate order. Usually the parcel has indeed got astray, but very occasionally you will encounter a dishonest consumer that uses the tactic to receive free items. But our CRM system will highlight any suspicious activity by individuals who repeatedly claim never to have received items.
However, given the imperfections of postal providers, there are always occasions when items are returned.
In the social media universe, one unhappy customer can have as big an impact on the reputation of your business as 10,000 happy customers.
It would be incorrect to say that as much time and effort has to go into sorting returns as shipping items in the first place, but only because getting parcels out the door should be relatively effortless.
Volume e-tailing is all about having streamlined processes in place to minimise the potential for something going wrong. Very simply, the order gets placed, the item gets plucked off the shelf, packed and an automatically generated address label gets slapped on the box.
Obviously, it is slightly more complicated than that, but cost effective e-tailing is rooted in a requirement to remove the potential for something going wrong – usually because of human error.
But returns are different. Items have to be assessed, dealt with and then information has to be fed back into the system – all by an employee.
Where some e-tailers go wrong is forgetting that no matter how efficient and high-tech the logistics operation, human beings are still required to be on hand when something goes wrong.
That sounds obvious, but too many organisations still focus solely on making the shipping process as cost efficient as possible but neglect to empower the human beings within the operation.
Why? Because human beings, unlike computers and bar code scanners and complex pieces of software, sometimes make mistakes and don’t always do what they are told 100 per cent of the time. And that could impact stock control analysis and performance targets and a whole host of other things. So best not to give them a chance to introduce fallibility into the mix in the first place!
With returns, as I have already mentioned, you are potentially dealing with an unhappy customer with the power to damage your reputation. So a disproportionate amount of resource must be employed to sort out the problem. And if the logistics/fulfillment/operations director complains that this introduces operational inefficiency, then tough! Happy customers actually prefer dealing with automated systems. Unhappy customers demand the attention of an empowered human being with the ability to fix a problem.
All e-tailers spend a great deal of money attracting new customers. So the cost of dealing with a return from an unhappy customer has to be considered in this context. And any company’s critics can make the strongest advocates if their complaint is dealt with in the right way.
That is why we go far beyond our legal obligations when it comes to returns and why I would recommend to other e-tailers to follow suit.
It makes perfect common sense.
Note: The views expressed here are those of Aaron Chatterley and do not necessarily represent the views of Retail Gazette.