Peak season is quickly heading our way, and with all those gift purchases being made you can bet some are headed back to you in the form of returns. Are you ready? 

Consumers were expected to return nearly 17% of retail merchandise purchased in 2021, according to data from the National Retail Federation. That’s a whopping $761 billion worth of products. Beyond losing revenue, your returns process can also cost your customers. Four in 10 respondents to another survey said they would reconsider future purchases from a retailer that took too long to process a refund, and 73% of consumers in a recent report said they will abandon a brand after up to three negative experiences. 

Retail returns may be a cost of doing business, but investing in a strategy to handle returns successfully can help ensure they don’t have an overly negative impact on your bottom line. While it may sting to lose a merchandise sale, losing the customer altogether hurts worse. On the flip side, even more consumers — a whopping 92% — say they’ll buy from a retailer again if the return process is easy. 

A reverse logistics approach that leverages crowdsourcing is an easy way for retailers to use available resources to increase positive customer interactions. In the same way you call on crowdsourced drivers for quick-turnaround order delivery during peak season, you can also tap them to handle returns with the same speed and ease. 

With crowdsourced delivery, you have a scaleable, on-demand reverse logistics process in your toolkit. That allows you to give customers choice in how they process returns, just like you give them choice (or should be) in how fast to receive their orders. 

Crowdsourcing anchors a returns process that satisfies everyone

Easier, smarter returns management yields happier customers and helps you get inventory back into circulation faster. That’s where crowdsourcing comes in. The national network of independent drivers using crowdsourced delivery platform Roadie can reach 97% of U.S. households. Read on to learn how you can save customers a trip to drop off their returns while winning their loyalty for the long haul:

Make easy returns a selling point

The easier your returns process, the more likely customers are to keep shopping with you. In e-commerce, “easy” means having flexible drop-off options that require little to no packaging, labeling or postage. 

Amazon set the precedent by creating a network of convenient drop-off locations in communities nationwide. Returning an item to the company’s branded and partner locations requires only a return QR code and no packaging from the customer’s end. It’s a simple task that experts say speeds up the return process

You don’t have to be a megaretailer to offer customers quick and easy returns. Roadie allows for packaging-free returns and easy QR code tracking. The customer’s doorstep is the pickup point, and the brick-and-mortar store, warehouse or other drop-off location is the destination. 

To start the crowdsourced returns process, the customer simply selects a return window for their pickup — as soon as the same day in some cases — Roadie matches a driver with the order, and the transaction takes place as usual. Even better: Clustered pickups let you match a single driver with multiple returns for a flat rate, so you can maximize every route.

Give purchases and returns the same transparency

More than two-thirds of shoppers (68%) want to know the status of their order from the time they click purchase to the time it’s delivered, one study found. For a top-tier returns experience, the reverse should be true, too. 

Customers can easily track their returns — and refund status — when they return their order at the store. The same is not always true when they drop a package in the mail or bring it to a drop-off location. In those cases, they must wait for their refund to process to get their money back and to know if their package was received successfully. That process can take weeks and be disrupted by issues such as lost packages and other delays.

Create a dedicated intake team and process

Your customer’s return has arrived at your facility. Now what? These items must be entered into the system differently than regular supplier deliveries. It’s important to act quickly. Remember: Your customer may use a sluggish returns and refund process as a reason to shop elsewhere next time. 

More than half (58%) of surveyed companies in a recent McKinsey report acknowledge that a pain point within their business is a lack of accountability for returns management. If that resonates with you, a few important considerations can help improve your returns process so inventory moves through the system efficiently and customers stay satisfied. 

  1. Build your team. Returns affect the whole business, so involve representatives from multiple departments and harness their insights when making your returns plan. An operations team member can help nail down the logistics, while finance staff will know how to manage refunds for clean bookkeeping. Add a marketing team member to the mix to help communicate your return policy to customers effectively.
  2. Streamline returns intake. No matter how returns get back into your network, make sure your intake process is clear for everyone involved. In the same way you might create a dedicated pickup point for crowdsourced deliveries, consider having a dedicated returns area in your warehouse or at your customer service desk. That level of organization can save you lots of headaches, particularly post-holiday season. Clear signage helps customers and drivers find these areas easily, while knowledgeable, friendly staff create a positive experience for customers and delivery drivers. 
  3. Verify returns qualifications. Post your easy-to-understand return policy prominently on your website and share it via other customer communications like order confirmations, packing slips and in-store receipts. These details should be clear and accessible for your staff, too. As returns come in, your processing team must verify that each returned item meets the criteria you’ve set forth in your policy. Did it arrive within the acceptable time frame? Is it in saleable condition? Does the product match the original receipt? Take this opportunity to double-check before issuing refunds.  
  4. Restock and redistribute. Train your staff to identify what can be resold and what needs to come out of circulation. A pallet of sellable materials sitting in a distribution center doesn’t do you much good. And an overstock of items at one store will be less lucrative than refilling understocked shelves elsewhere. Reselling returned items means getting the merchandise on the right shelves in stores or updating your online inventory. This is especially true with seasonal items that must be restocked quickly so they’re more likely to sell at full price before going out of season.

Crowdsourcing solutions help you build a seamless returns process

Customers want smooth and satisfying returns just like they want fast and easy order fulfillment. That means retailers need to give the returns process plenty of attention to build customer loyalty and to avoid losing time and money from an inefficient returns process.

Having the right delivery network in place makes managing returns easy and differentiates your business in the marketplace. It all starts with having a fulfillment platform that’s ready when you need it. Whether they’re delivering to a customer’s doorstep or picking up from one, drivers using Roadie can help simplify these last-mile solutions for you and your customers, so you both get the best experience possible. 

Ready to learn more? Check out our playbook to learn how leveraging crowdsourcing for fast and efficient returns can improve the customer experience, foster brand loyalty and lower return costs.

The last mile in reverse: 4 ways to optimize returns with crowdsourcing