by Spencer Moore, EVP of Sales at Speed Commerce
Peak season 2016 was one for the record books. Total e-commerce sales reached a whopping $91.7B, representing an 11 percent growth when compared to 2015.
The ease of online shopping has created a new breed of customers and an even deeper divide between shoppers and small to mid-sized merchants. Today, 30 percent of shoppers purchase with the intent of returning unwanted items – a fourth of those same customers refuse to order an item if they had to pay for the cost of returns.
Given the complexities and costs of fulfillment and returns, many small to mid-sized merchants have stopped offering online shopping options altogether. However, with the exploding popularity of e-commerce, merchants will suffer without the option for online sales, particularly during peak shopping seasons.
Small to mid-sized merchants cannot afford to drop out of the online shopping game altogether. Retailers can create a path toward a profitable e-commerce and returns process that caters to today’s consumer demands with the following considerations:
1. Hire and train your dream team.
Staffing is an important and often overlooked aspect of streamlining online sales and returns processes. If you’re hiring for peak season help, ensure that you get a jump start on training to field questions related to returns. The competition is tough during busy peak periods and the good workers tend to get hired quickly. It’s always worth the extra cost of onboarding new talent before the busy periods kick-in – allowing employees to have as much experience as possible “in the seat” as possible.
Injecting fun into the training process for handling returns and online sales is a must. From the instant an employee encounters your company, they should feel that their tasks will have a sense of purpose and that the company is a fun place to work. Adding an element of fun will motivate employees to feel the same sense of personal investment in the business’ success as you do.
2. Get innovative with your returns policies.
Innovative returns solutions are entering the marketplace at a rapid rate. As a business owner, you should research and consider other novel business processes to lessen the cost of returns and online sales for your business. Examples of new tactics include offering a discount to online shoppers who are willing to opt out of returns altogether. Other smart practices include inserting return slips directly into packaging and equipping staff with the knowledge to answer a customer’s questions about even the most sophisticated of your products.
Retailers often don’t put the same level of thought into their returns processes as they do delivering products in the first place. A system should be put in place to figure out how to move a returned item back out the door – and fast. Returns should be treated as an original item for sale with the same fulfillment techniques applied. In turn, this will limit the amount of returned goods flowing to the secondary market, where value is inevitably lost.
3. Consider a fulfillment partner.
Outsourcing to a fulfillment partner can be an impactful way to streamline returns and online sales. A partner can handle the fulfillment side of the business, freeing up a significant amount of time to focus on your own core competencies for growing the business.
For example, the majority of a retailer’s business is conducted the five weeks before December 25th. Therefore, a fulfillment partner can be particularly advantageous during and post-peak season to handle the inevitable swarm of returns. A partner can help retailers optimize their inventory by deploying new strategies to get returns merchandise out of the warehouse and into the hands of consumers quickly. Fulfillment partners can offer strategic insights based on historical and market data for the entire returns cycle. With those insights, businesses can increase packing accuracy and communicate where items are in the supply chain at a given time. At the end of the returns cycle, once items have been shipped and accounted for, fulfillment partners can offer data-driven reports for you to evaluate areas for improved efficiencies.
Why does this matter?
Bottom line, small to mid-sized business owners cannot afford to drop out of the e-commerce game. Online sales are expected to continue to grow and reach $523 billion by 2020, up 56 percent from original projections in 2015. Business owners should take a step back and evaluate their current processes for handling returns and fulfillment of online orders. By equipping your business with capable staff, considering innovative returns processes and potentially partnering with a fulfillment provider, you can reap the many benefits of today’s online shopping craze.
Spencer Moore is the EVP of Sales at Speed Commerce, a leading provider of fulfillment solutions, customer engagement services and ecommerce order management technology for retailers and manufacturers.