Ecommerce represents tremendous opportunity for the retail sector and last year, online spend in Australia accounted for $52.1 billion. But as purchasing increases, so does the volume of returns. In fact, 16% of items purchased in Australia are returned – considerably higher than the global average of 6%. With this surge in returns, businesses can be left with an influx of unwanted products that are either destroyed or sent to landfill.

With the increasing popularity of online shopping and with physical stores now re-opening their doors, return rates are likely to spike even further – something which can quickly erode the bottom line, especially for new or smaller businesses.

On top of this, with 73% of shoppers saying the returns experience affects their likelihood to purchase from a retailer again, it’s critical for businesses to make sure the process is as seamless as possible. Thankfully, there are a number of ways to improve your reverse logistics operation to lower costs and boost profitability.

Get the process right from the start

How you deal with returns can differentiate your brand and create a competitive advantage. A poor experience is a surefire way to disappoint customers and impact their loyalty, but a clear and easy process can compel your customers to spend more and return to buy more.

Consumers want the ability to return items, without spending time negotiating a positive outcome with customer service. Having a return policy that is flexible, may help put shoppers at ease about buying from your business. Being lenient and allowing an extended return time beyond the classic 30-days, directly affects return rates and have shown to even result in increased purchases.

Having a clear and consistent policy that can be easily communicated to employees and customers will help to manage customer expectations while protecting the brand’s reputation.

Maintaining your customer focus

Making your customers jump through hoops to return a product will negatively impact the customer experience but by eliminating the risk and hassle of returns, you will build loyalty with your shoppers. A frictionless returns process will equate to good customer service, while also focusing on your bottom line.

It’s estimated that 95% of customers use at least three channels in a single interaction so, it’s important to provide the same level of functionality and experience across channels, no matter how a buyer chooses to access your services.  To maintain positive interactions with your customers when and wherever they prefer, it may be time to adopt an omnichannel returns approach. Omnichannel, also known as cross-channel, is an effective way to improve the customer experience, and in turn, increase revenue. With seamless data sharing, customers can easily switch between their favourite platforms, while consistently receiving the same high-level of service.

Is it time to automate?

Managing a manual returns process can be complex with many steps and repetitive tasks. When your employees are spending the majority of time creating shipping labels or fielding questions from shoppers instead of providing great customer service, it may be time to automate this process.

Even though many still prefer to speak with a customer representative, in recent years, we have become more open to interacting with bots and use automated processes to meet our needs. As technology becomes more sophisticated further automation is seeing the light. Brands which invest in the right software can minimise manual involvement by automating workflows, simplify and speed up the returns process which in turn should positively impact profitability.

For example, cloud-based Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)solutions can help track all interactions with customers, automate order and return management, and special offers through marketing communications, which can allow your sales teams to focus on delivering great customer service.

Jason Toshack is vice president and general manager for Australia and New Zealand at Oracle NetSuite.