Supply Chain Management: Five Ways to Stand Out with Online Returns

By Molly Goad

According to a 2020 Returns Consumer Survey by ReBOUND, a quarter of all consumers return between 5% and 15% of the items they buy online. Yowza. 

Some shoppers buy multiple sizes or styles with the intention of sending back what doesn’t work. I’m one of those shoppers that would rather not deal with a return, so I read all of the comments on size and fit to hopefully make the right selection. But even with my meticulous research, I have returned many items in my day.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), online returns more than doubled in 2020 from 2019 as the pandemic forced more customers to shop online.

So, like it or not, returns are inevitable. Embrace the returns. Look at it as a chance to “wow” your customers.

“Retailers view the return process as an opportunity to further engage with customers, as it provides additional points of contact for retailers to enhance the overall consumer experience,” said Mark Mathews, NRF’s vice president of research development and industry analysis.

Here are a few simple tips that can help your return game. 

1. Make the Return Policy Simple and Clear

When customers are shopping in your store, it should be easy for them to find the details of your return policy. If a potential buyer has to search for it, they are likely to go elsewhere. Put it out there loud and clear on every page.

Also, brevity and easy-to-understand wording will do wonders. If it reads like a legal document and includes a pile of words, you’ll send your customers running. 

2. Speedy Returns via EDI

The return process has to be quick. Period. If you’ve returned something on Amazon, you’ve seen how fast the refund can happen. And as an online retailer, you’re competing with Amazon every day. 

A sure-fire way to speed up the return is via EDI. (EDI stands for electronic data interchange, which just means sharing documents in a common virtual format. To learn more about how it works, click here.) In the EDI world, returns are triggered electronically with the EDI 180 Return Merchandise Authorization transaction set. This EDI document involves the various steps in the returns process: request for return, authorization or disposition, notification, and/or shipping information.

EDI allows you to refund the customer quicker. Or, if the shopper is seeking a replacement product, EDI helps get that product back into their hands fast. 

3. Automation via EDI

This goes along with speed. Consumers don’t want to have to email or call customer service to begin the return. Allow them to start the process automatically. This is where EDI comes in again, because it will handle these details for you. 

In addition to customer satisfaction, you’ll enjoy other perks with EDI: This electronic transaction streamlines the process of returns, meaning you don’t need a person to manually key the information into different systems.

The digital process removes the possibility of human error. There are costs associated with fixing issues that stem from incorrect data entry and hiring someone to manage returns in the first place, so the cost of implementing EDI will be offset by the savings you’ll enjoy.

4. Offer Free Shipping

If you don’t offer free shipping for the return, it’s something to think hard about. You are likely sending customers elsewhere if they know they have to pay for the return, putting dollars into the pockets of the competition. 

This is an area where you may need to reframe your mindset. Instead of viewing returns as a huge expense, look at it as an investment into customer retention.

5. Blast it on Social Media

If you’re offering free, automated returns, put that all over social media. Anytime you promote a product, make sure to add “hassle-free returns” or other similar verbiage loud and clear. Use the returns *investment as an advantage every single day. (*Notice my choice of words there — “investment” vs. “cost” — because it’s all about reframing the mindset.)

Keep Customers Happy 

Make your customer happy with the overall return experience, and increase the likelihood that they will come back in the future. 

If you need to invest in an EDI solution, but aren’t sure where to begin, we offer a three-month trial. Additionally, we offer an EDI-compliant shipping module called DES. Contact us to learn more: call 844-265-3777 or email

Recommended Posts