Founder/CEO of narvar, which pioneered the post-purchase experience. Previously, he shaped retail operations as an executive at Apple and Walmart.
Keeping store shelves stocked has been a problem for retailers during this long-running supply chain crisis. A low-leveraged solution to that problem is merchandise that was recently purchased but is no longer wanted, taking up space in our closets, or sitting by the front door forever. Retailers are starting to see their customers’ closets as a source of inventory, which means they need to get returns back faster to avoid the opportunity cost of this dead inventory.
This reality underscores why returns and the post-purchase experience can be a game changer for retail and should be an investment priority. In addition to the logistical opportunity, it’s incredibly important to customer experience (CX), as an e-commerce brand’s return features are a key consideration in consumer purchasing decisions. It’s often a top reason people shop with a retailer: 60% of consumers will consider the return policy before making a purchase.
To meet these expectations, retailers must fine-tune their post-purchase experience by investing in holistic technology that enables greater visibility for both consumers and their internal teams based on real-time logistics data.
Specially designed technology and operations
Retail yields, which reached $428 billion in the US last year, are now a complex operating problem that is ripe for consolidation and simplification. To be more competitive, retailers must evolve from using a fragmented technology stack to a unified one that makes working with numerous vendors, manufacturers, fulfillment providers, and couriers much easier to manage operationally.
For too long, brands have tied their reverse logistics together, increasing their operational burden and creating inconvenient returns processes for customers. Retailers should look for technology designed specifically for the post-purchase experience and that can be integrated with a consolidated physical logistics operation. Retailers require visibility into the shipping costs of an item based on its location and destination.
They should be able to see where the inventory is: “The order is from Cincinnati and there are none in our nearby Kentucky fulfillment center, but we have five in California. What should we do?” Retailers with accurate data in real time can make the best decision. In fact, today’s smartest brands recognize the tremendous opportunity to take their reverse logistics operation to the next level while improving CX and building loyalty. But the right technology is needed.
A unified view of data
Legacy supply chain systems have become inadequate, as retailers have used the software equivalent of packing tape and wire to hold them together. Too often, these systems fail to provide a single source of information about orders and returns, fulfillment, and transportation across the network, only increasing in complexity as the retail and logistics landscape rapidly transforms.
Brands need this holistic view to gain actionable insights that help them manage deliveries and returns in the first, middle and last mile. When retailers know exactly where deliveries are, they can notify their customers, who will appreciate the visibility and be less likely to call support. When retailers know where the returns are, they can better manage inventory and marketing, as well as inform the consumer so they have a better idea of the status of their refund without having to ask. When retailers know where the rebates are, both their customers and the CFO are happier.
With the right kind of system, visibility can be achieved, leading to better post-purchase communications between the brand and the customer. More specifically, it will eliminate data breaches that harm the customer experience and put pressure on operational ROI.
a competitive advantage
Retail operations today must support omnichannel options for order pickup and delivery, such as buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS), buy online, return in store (BORIS), buy in store, return online (BISTRO), more convenient delivery locations beyond brand stores. And while these options have become table stakes, consumers will also increasingly expect retailers to have additional services, such as scheduled home pickup, lockers and other alternatives, that retailers will need to be able to scale to accommodate.
These options require a sophisticated network of partnerships between a retailer and other supply chain actors, and the need for a unified system where real-time data delivers actionable insights is becoming imperative. Not to mention, this advanced system is now necessary for an industry that sees more and more packages in the logistics chain: B2C courier and express parcel service has grown 14% annually over the last five years.
With a consolidated data view, retailers will be able to offer customers more options on how to return items while simplifying, streamlining and consolidating returns operations. They can reduce the time it takes to restock a returned item and process a refund, giving customers peace of mind and building loyalty.
The importance of return logistics is underestimated
If retailers need inspiration to make returns a loyalty advantage, they can look to the mall our company partnered with. E-commerce customers can return orders at three customer service locations in the mega mall, where they can drop off their returns by scanning QR codes.
That’s the kind of CX that will win a future where returns from e-commerce increasingly drive brand loyalty.
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