7 strategies for managing returns in complex supply chains

Guest post - Written by ReturnGO

Complex eCommerce supply chains, with all their moving parts, can make managing returns a real challenge. But why let complexity get in the way of an exceptional returns process? 

With the right strategies in place, you can streamline your returns and keep your customers happy in even the most complex logistics scenarios. 

Navigating Complex Supply Chains

As your business grows, so can the complexity of your supply chain. More products, customers, and suppliers mean more moving parts to coordinate. You may find yourself sourcing products from more suppliers, dealing with a higher volume of orders, and managing relationships with multiple carriers and logistics providers across the world.

Now, let's talk about returns in the context of these complex supply chains. When you've got so many different pieces in play, returns can quickly become complicated. 

Think about it: a return comes in from halfway around the world, and now you've got to figure out where it needs to go, how to process it, and how to keep the customer in the loop. It's a lot to handle, especially when you're dealing with multiple warehouses and suppliers.

So, what should you keep in mind if you've got a complex supply chain?

7 Strategies to Streamline Returns in Complex Supply Chains

Let's face it, returns are inevitable. But with the right tactics, you can turn them into a force for good:

1. Use a Returns Management System (RMS)

Managing returns in a complex supply chain requires precision and efficiency. That's where a returns management system (RMS) steps in as your automated solution. 

An RMS is a centralized hub that streamlines every step of your returns process. Gone are the days of endless email chains and paper return forms - automation is the future of returns.

With real-time tracking and automated workflows, an RMS like ReturnGO gives you the visibility you need to keep track of returns and exchanges no matter where in the world or how complex the return scenario. 

Plus, with built-in data analytics, you can spot trends, identify problem areas, and fine-tune your processes for maximum efficiency. 

In a complex supply chain where every moving part counts, an RMS is your secret weapon for staying on top of returns and keeping your customers happy.

2. Negotiate Discounted Return Shipping Rates

Who says return shipping has to cost an arm and a leg? Empower yourself by negotiating discounted rates with shipping carriers to tackle high costs. 

Volume-based discounts can save you a significant amount of money, allowing you to offer more affordable returns to your customers. This can make a big difference since 79% of customers say that free returns are important to their purchase decisions.

3. Standardize Procedures Across Warehouses

When you've got returns coming into multiple warehouses, consistency is key. To keep things running smoothly, develop clear procedures that cover the basics: inspecting returned items, restocking shelves, and more. This ensures efficiency, reduces errors, and keeps customers and warehouse staff informed.

Efficient warehouse management is really the secret to a seamless return process in complex supply chains. Here's how to achieve it:

  • Standardize across locations: Clear and consistent procedures across all locations mean every return gets handled perfectly, no matter which warehouse it lands in.
  • Partner with a 3PL: Third-Party Logistics providers (3PL) specialize in managing complex logistics processes, freeing you up to focus on other important parts of your business. It’s no surprise that 40% of retailers already use a 3PL to handle returns. 
  • Embrace automation: Tools that automate things like inventory management and order fulfillment can help boost return processing speed and accuracy. 74% of businesses are investing more in supply chain technology and innovations, including AI technologies, automation, and analytics.

Transform your complex supply chain into a well-oiled returns workflow, keeping your customers happy and your business thriving.

4. Make the Most of Feedback

Every return tells a story. Capture valuable customer feedback during the return process to understand the "why" behind the return. 

Return portals like ReturnGO’s gather customers’ return reasons to help you understand what went wrong. 

Analyze this data to identify product defects, size inconsistencies, or unclear product descriptions. This feedback loop allows you to continuously improve your offerings and ultimately reduce future returns.

5. Protect Yourself from Fraudulent Returns

While most returns are genuine, some can be fraudulent. In fact, returns fraud costs the US retail industry around $101 billion a year.

In complex supply chains, with items moving across borders and between warehouses, spotting fraud can be especially challenging. 

Protect yourself by taking preventive steps against return fraud:

  • Create a clear return policy: Write a well-defined return policy that’s easily accessible on your website, outlining the timeframe and specific conditions for eligibility for returns. 
  • Require proof of purchase: Require proof of purchase such as order information, images of the item, or require customers to log in to their account to initiate a return. By requiring proof of purchase, you make it much harder for fraudsters to return items they never legitimately bought.
  • Flag suspicious activity: Use a tool that can track return history and flag suspicious activity. For example, if a specific customer has a history of frequently returning high-value items, you can limit their returns or require additional verification.

Remember, a proactive approach is key for reducing return fraud and protecting your profits, no matter how complex your supply chain.

6. Give Customer More Flexibility 

Today's customers crave convenience. Cater to their needs by offering a variety of return options like in-store drop-offs, extended return windows, or prepaid labels to make returns easier. These options can make the returns process much easier for customers, reducing frustration and hassle.

Flexible options show your customers that you care about their experience, leading to higher satisfaction and loyalty, which can, in turn, lower your overall return rates.

7. Communicate Clearly Throughout the Return Process

When it comes to returns in complex supply chains, transparency is key. With multiple stakeholders and shipping methods involved, it's easy for customers to feel confused and lost.

Here's where communication is so important. By keeping your customers informed every step of the way, you can turn the returns experience into a positive one.

Be upfront about potential delays due to the complexities of your supply chain, and set realistic expectations about turnaround times. The more you communicate, the less likely customers are to be left wondering what's happening with their return.

Ready to Take Control of Your Returns?

Don't let complex logistics be a barrier to a seamless returns experience. Implement these proactive strategies to transform your eCommerce supply chain into a well-oiled returns machine. 

Remember, a well-managed return process is about more than just processing returns efficiently - it's also about gathering insights, improving your workflows, and creating a memorable customer experience that drives loyalty and boosts profitability.

About the Author

Rebecca Fox

Product Marketing Manager, ReturnGO

Rebecca Fox is ReturnGO’s Product Marketing Manager. She is passionate about educating eCommerce business owners on how they can streamline their post-purchase process. Using her experience and industry expertise, Rebecca is committed to helping businesses thrive in the ever-changing world of eCommerce.