Written by Oliver Trunkett for ShippingEasy

Returns get a lot of coverage in the e-commerce stats world, as they should. Sellers large and small typically have a returns process in place, however many sellers can benefit from improving certain aspects of their returns process, leading to more loyal customers and long-term revenue benefits.

Online buyers return at a rate of 30% compared to retail’s 8% (source: Invesp infographic). While this may seem alarming, many web-only retailers can have extremely low return rates as a majority of returns in the industry are concentrated around apparel sales. Logically, this trend makes sense. As online shoppers can’t try on the clothes first, they can’t be sure the items will fit which can lead to a return. Despite the compelling stats for apparel, all e-commerce merchants should consider an easy return policy. Nailing returns has great benefits like increasing customer loyalty and shopping experience satisfaction. Huge online retailers like Zappos built their entire business on fast shipping and easy returns. In this post we’ll go over a few ways to boost your entire returns process to reap these benefits.5 ways to improve #ecommerce returns by @ShippingEasy (hint: automation is one of them) http://shippingeasy.webgility.com/ #Webgility Click To Tweet

1. Make sure your orders are accurate
This may sound simple, but many returns are not because customers don’t actually want what they ordered, but because they received the wrong order entirely. This is actually fairly common in the e-commerce world – customers will often receive an incomplete order, the wrong order, or merchandise from a website they’ve never visited (due to recipient address errors). To ensure that orders fulfilled are accurate and go to the correct destination, I suggest removing the capacity for manual errors by automating as much of the shipping process as you can through integrated shipping software. Software enables you to pull in orders as the customers entered them, validate addresses, generate pick lists to guarantee you’re grabbing the right item from your inventory, and generate packing slips to double check the order has everything inside the box.

2. Have a solid return/refund policy on your website
Clarify specifically which items you only offer partial refunds to or don’t offer refunds at all. A personal tip: If you don’t offer a refund on a specific item, give an explanation to shoppers why you don’t. The extra effort to explain the restricted policy goes a long way. When creating a return policy, it’s easiest to find a tool that can build your policy for you (like Shopify’s free return policy generator – which doesn’t require a Shopify login). These tools will build a working return policy based on parameters you enter.  You’ll receive the groundwork for your perfect return policy which you and then edit further to more closely match your product offerings. This article from TermsFeed goes over many qualities that make a good returns policy and how having one can positively affect your sales. These qualities include: set a lengthy returns period to account for restocking and refunding, offer free returns, look at why items are being returned in an effort to fix it, and more.

3. Make returns as easy as possible for customers

Only 53% of shoppers are satisfied with the ease of making a return to a site they were shopping on according to UPS, make sure your store isn’t part of the 47%! Finding new customers can be hard. Easy returns can increase the likelihood for repeat shopping, so giving them a positive return experience could lead to repeat purchases in the future.One way to instantly simplify your returns process is to include a return label with the order, which leads to the next tip.

4. Offer scan-based return labels right in the
This is on the trendier side of e-commerce, but is becoming more common every day. UPS states that 30% of current online customers want to see a return label included with their order when they receive it. This is a “pay on use” or “scan-based” return label. Luckily for you, offering scan-based return labels that are only charged when used are easy to generate. Shipping software solutions (like ShippingEasy) have the ability baked in and allow sellers to include scan-based return labels with every order if they choose. Just tick the box and the scan-based return label prints along with the regular shipping label.

5. If you can manage it, try not to charge for returns
UPS also finds that 58% of shoppers say free return shipping is key to a positive returns experience, and Shorr Packaging says that companies that offer free returns see an increase of sales in the future. While offering free returns may seem expensive, and it can be, the long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term costs. Selling online is more about building a relationship with your customers so they will be your customers for years to come rather than a single conversion.

Returns are just as important as any part of your e-commerce business. They reflect strongly on your customer satisfaction and should not be an afterthought when managing and running your business. Online shoppers demand a lot from online retailers, but the merchants are rewarded with consistent shoppers that return to buy from you again and again.

For more on how to streamline your shipping operations and make the most of those important profit margins, check out Webgility for ShippingEasy.