How to make your international returns easy and profitable

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Tactics to help you streamline and grow your business.

If you sell online, you are inevitably going to get returns. Although many online sellers think of selling internationally as a one-way ticket to business growth, few seem to take into account the consideration of international returns.

While cross-border trade is a key focus among online retailers looking to expand their sales, it does come with its challenges. Specifically, one of the main reasons small to medium sized companies will shy away from international selling is the fear of returns.

That said, the process is becoming easier as both governments and postal service operators are working together to optimise cross-border ecommerce delivery and returns.

We spoke to Mark Burch from Ezi Returns for tips for handling international returns as well as a suggested action plan to make sure that your returns process is up to scratch and able to provide a positive experience for both you and your customers.

Review your processes

When it comes to dealing with international returns, there are some challenges such as language barriers, cultural differences and varying attitudes, each of which can vary from one country to another – but your global customers will all have similar expectations.

“Is your pick, pack and check process as good as it can be? Aim for 0% picking errors. In order to achieve this, consider looking to improve your procedures, as well as looking at labeling, warehousing issues, barcode scanning and staff training,” recommends Mark.

One way in which you can minimize human errors and speed up the order fulfillment process is through the implementation of inventory management software.

Some modern inventory management systems even have automatic shipping updates and allow you to bulk print shipping labels, invoices, picking lists and packing slips.

Reviewing your processes may be an obvious tactic, but it is an excellent way to get started on improving your processes to handle international returns more seamlessly.

Make your returns policy accessible and clear for your customers to follow

“It is reported that up to 67% of customers check out the returns policy first, before deciding who to buy from. Read, re-read and get your friends and family to check your returns policy and, more importantly, your returns instructions,” suggests Mark.

Of course, you’ll also want to think about how this information is presented on your website and packing slips or invoices, as well as your dedicated returns form, if applicable.

The more positive experience you can create for your customers, the more likely they will be to follow through with international purchases and less likely to want to return an item.

According to Mark, “There is an argument that making the returns process too easy will increase your returns rate, and while this may be true for certain products, as a seller you will know what is best for your business.”

“For most online sellers, returns will always happen. Unfortunately, as your sales grow, so will your returns rate. But, by understanding why your customers are returning your products, you can begin identifying trends and use this insight to make improvements and ultimately decrease your returns rate.”

Streamline your returns processes

This could be as simple as:

  • Improving how quickly you respond to returns requests;
  • Redefining the way in which you deal with potential problem emails and resolve issues before they result in a return.

“Having a returns form somewhere on your invoice to record important information, such as the reason for return, not only helps speed up the handling of the return once the item is received, but also provides you with valuable data,” says Mark.

As a successful online retailer, you should deal with returns as though they are a new order – in other words, they should be a priority.

Keep in mind that a customer who has a positive experience even through a returns process will be much more likely to recommend you to others and purchase from you again, as the positive experience helps to build trust between your customers and retail business.

As Mark suggests, an important part of streamlining your returns process is working out how to deal with the logistics of getting the unwanted items back.

Typically, these are your options:

  • Provide a pre-paid label to your customers
  • Write them off and let the customer keep them
  • Let the customer post the items back and wait for their postage refund
  • Engage the services of a returns solution provider

1. Provide a pre-paid label to your customers

Providing a pre-paid returns label for your customers’ benefit is a great way to build trust and enhance their overall experience with ordering from your online business.

That said, such a process can be costly and usually involves a contract with a courier or postal service in each country, or alternatively a contract covering a range of countries.

Mark suggests, “If you have the volumes to meet the minimum levels, this can work well. And, if your items are all of a similar size and value, you can work the average cost into your margins.”

“Unfortunately, for many online retail sellers that sell items of varying sizes and values, your return costs per item could be very high, which means that this may not be the best option for your business.”

2. Write them off and let the customer keep the item

While not the most beneficial of options, you do have a choice of writing the return off and allowing your unhappy customer to keep the item.

As Mark says, “this is not a viable option for high value goods and is definitely not good for your bottom line.” On top of this, you’ll want to watch out for any customers who catch onto what you’re doing in case they choose to abuse your generous services in the future.

3. Let the customer post the item back and wait for their postage refund

With international returns, items can take several days (if not weeks) or more to arrive back to your business. Such a process doesn’t tend to be popular with customers, especially in countries such as Germany.

The long returns process can increase the anxiety of your customer as well as the likelihood of a poor rating or review, which can impact on whether or not other new potential buyers follow through with their own purchase from your business.

What’s more, “you also have no control over what service your international customers may use and therefore have little or no control over return postage cost,” says Mark.

4. Engage the services of a returns solution provider

According to Mark, “engaging the services of a returns solution provider can be invaluable when selling internationally, as it can literally halve the cost of letting customers post the item back themselves via their own means.”

“When the items are received vital information is then sent to the retailer on the exact same day. The seller then processes the refund or exchange as normal themselves, and the items are then stored until ready for consolidated, cost-effective shipment back to the seller.”

You may also want to consider offering additional services like other retail companies, such as a “re-pack and send.” This process involves the returned goods being sent to a new customer within that country, turning your returned items back into cash far quicker and making significant savings on your shipping costs.

Make your international returns profitable

When it comes to expanding your business internationally, dealing with international product returns can be tough to wrap your head around.

Thankfully though, by improving and reviewing your returns process day by day, you can enjoy the same international growth as thousands of other online retail businesses.