Simplifying the Return Process: A Guide to Automated Shopify Returns

If you own or manage an e-commerce store, you know how tricky the returns process can be. You’ve got to handle everything from creating the return in Shopify to generating the label with the postal system to marking the item as received and completed in your online system, and more.

The good news is that there’s an easier way to go about all of this that doesn’t involve quite so much manual labor — setting up automated returns. Automated returns make use of technology to streamline the process and reduce the number of steps you have to take to process customer returns. 

The article will equip you with valuable insights about automated returns — including understanding what they are, identifying the challenges with manual returns, recognizing their benefits for both business and customers and more. 

Why You Should Ditch Manual Returns and Automate Instead

Running a business involves a myriad of tasks each day. One of the challenges businesses can often encounter is handling product returns. The traditional, manual process of handling returns can be an operational nightmare, especially for a growing business. 

For starters, manual returns are time-consuming. When a customer wants to return a product, they usually need to reach out to customer service via email or phone. This involves explaining the reason for the return, ensuring the product is still within the return window, and then providing the customer with instructions on how to send the item back. 

Additionally, manual returns are often prone to errors. Miscommunication can lead to incorrect information being passed on, such as wrong return addresses or misinterpretation of the reason for the return. These errors can lead to unhappy customers and a damaged business reputation.

Beyond that, businesses have to keep a close eye on when a return package is shipped and received and then ensure the customer is refunded or a replacement product is sent out.  These multiple updates can be difficult to keep track of. 

Finally, manual returns lack simple ways to analyze data. You miss out on valuable insights that could help us understand common reasons for returns, any potential product flaws, or even trends in customer behavior. All this information, if accurately collected and analyzed, could help you improve your product and customer service and ultimately grow your business.

Benefits of Automated Returns for Businesses

Alright, we know why manual returns are no good. But, what is it that really makes automated returns so critical? 

As the owner of an e-commerce store, automating returns brings numerous benefits to your business, including: 

  • Boosting efficiency and streamlining processes
  • Saving money on additional staff members
  • Reducing error rates
  • Collecting data insights
  • Faster processing times

All of these benefits lead to a more successful returns process and a more profitable business all around.

A Breakdown of the Steps of Automated Return Processing

Allow me to walk you through what a typical return process might look like. To illustrate the steps more effectively, let's use a hypothetical scenario. 

Let's say you run an online clothing brand store on Shopify, and one of your customers, John, has purchased a pair of jeans.

After trying them on, John realizes they don't fit as expected. He wants to return them. Here's how the process pans out:

  1. First, John logs into his account on your website and accesses his recent orders. He selects the jeans he wants to return and submits a return request. 
  2. In case of an automated return system, he would provide reasons for the return and request either a refund or an exchange.
  3. Once he submits the return request, the system reviews it. In some cases, returns might be approved automatically, while others might require manual approval, depending on your company's return policy.
  4. After the return is approved, John gets a notification with a return shipping label that he can print. He packs the jeans carefully, attaches the shipping label to the package, and drops it off at the designated carrier location.
  5. Once you, as the retailer, receive the returned jeans, you inspect them. If everything complies with your return policy, the system processes the refund or credits the exchange accordingly. 
  6. After the return has been processed from your end, John receives an email confirmation of the refund or the exchange. In case of an exchange, you would ship the exchanged item to John. 

In essence, while this is an illustrative case, the steps largely remain the same across different products and businesses. This process also shows how automated returns work - efficiently reducing the number of steps a customer must navigate and making the entire returns process easier and faster.

Signs That a Business Needs to Automate Their Returns

If you can start to see the benefits of automated returns, you might now start to wonder what some signs are that you should go ahead and implement this kind of system. In general, there are a few key indicators that automating returns might be a good step to take: 

  • You’ve got high return volumes: If your business is dealing with a large number of returns on a regular basis, then managing these manually can quickly become overwhelming.
  • You receive customer complaints about the return process: When customers start to complain about your return process, either directly to you or through online reviews, that's a clear signal something needs to change. 
  • There are increased operational costs: Manually processing returns can be a labor-intensive process that takes up valuable resources. If your personnel are spending much of their time processing returns instead of focusing on revenue-generating activities, it's a sign you need automation.
  • You’ve had errors in return processing: If you're seeing a pattern of errors such as refunding the wrong amounts, incorrect customer information, or misclassification of returned goods, it could be the result of a process overwhelmed by volume. Automation can bring consistency, accuracy, and smoother operations.

If you recognize any of these signs within your own operation, it's likely time to consider an automated returns solution. The good news is that implementing a robust and efficient automated returns system is easier than ever before, thanks to the variety of software solutions available today. 

Automation can alleviate many of these pain points in your return process and allow for smoother operations while improving customer satisfaction.

Key Features of a Good Automated Returns System

As a business owner, you're going to want an automated return system that works smoothly and provides you and your customers with a seamless, stress-free experience. Here are a few key features to look out for, along with some examples:

  1. User-friendly interface: Your customers need to be able to navigate your returns process easily. This means clear instructions, intuitive design, and a straightforward process. 
  2. Swift processing: The faster return requests are processed, the quicker the product can be resold, and the happier your customer will be.
  3. Real-time tracking: This feature provides complete transparency for both you and your customer. The customer can follow their return shipment’s progress, and you can plan your inventory accordingly. 
  4. Easy integration with other systems: Your returns system should be able to integrate well with your existing e-commerce platform and other business systems like inventory and customer service.
  5. Comprehensive return policy management: Automated return apps can allow merchants to build custom return policies and rules visible during the return creation process.
  6. Data analytics: A good return system should provide insights into your return trends and reasons. Seeing why customers are returning items can guide improvements. 

Your chosen system should address your individual business needs while also delivering on these key features. The end goal? Streamlining and simplifying your returns process, thereby driving customer satisfaction and improving operational efficiency.

What Steps to Take to Start Automating Your Returns

Once you’ve selected an automated returns system, it’s time to get into the implementation process. This is actually pretty straightforward, but to help you understand what to do, I’ve broken it down into steps.

Step 1: Go Over Your Current Return Policy

It is crucial to ensure that your policy is easy to understand and fair to both the customer and your business. Ask yourself: 

  1. What aspects of my current return policy are working well? 
  2. Where is there room for improvement? 

Make any necessary adjustments to your policy before moving forward.

Step 2: Identify the Right Solution for Your Business

This might involve seeking out applications or software specifically designed to streamline the returns process. Each business is unique, so it's crucial to assess your specific pain points and needs before deciding on the ideal solution for automating your returns.

For those of us who use Shopify as our eCommerce platform, there are many trustworthy apps available right in the Shopify app store. 

Step 3: Consider Third-Party Logistics

For large-scale operations dealing with a high volume of returns, you might take into consideration outsourcing to a third-party logistics provider that offers returns management as part of their service. This way, you can focus on other critical areas of your business whilst leaving the complexities of returns management to the experts.

Step 4: Integration with Your E-Commerce Platform

Of course, the implementation of new systems or software should be done in a way that integrates smoothly with your e-commerce platform. This usually involves setting up the software, customizing the settings to fit your return policy, and integrating it with your Shopify store. This will involve some level of technical understanding, but many application developers provide extensive customer support to help you with this aspect.

Step 5: Preparing Your Team for the Shift in Operations

It's equally essential to prepare your team for this significant shift in operations. Therefore, arrange for your staff to receive training on the new system. This could involve webinars, online tutorials, or hands-on training from the software company itself.

Step Into the Future With Automated Returns

An automated returns process can bring about significant change not only in your day-to-day operations but, more importantly, in your customer service experience. 

Reducing errors and streamlining the process, return automation can ease the burden on businesses. You have more time now to focus on other crucial aspects of the business, like driving sales and improving your product line. Instead of backtracking and correcting errors, processes can continually move forward.

If you’re ready to get started with a simple and straightforward system for automating your returns, ReturnZap may just be the answer. Check it out today to see how it works and how it can contribute to improved efficiency and cost savings for your store.

David Amouyal
January 8, 2024

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