Improve Your Ecommerce Returns Process Using AI Automation

With the Covid-19 pandemic still present in the UK, 28% of customers plan to shop even more online this holiday season compared to a record-breaking 2020.

More online store sales will inevitably lead to higher return rates as people try out products and send back unwanted Christmas gifts. If your business isn’t prepared, you could end up running into serious trouble around your returns processes 

In this quick guide, we’ll go over what it looks like when you automate your returns management, the benefits of automation, a few examples of brands doing it right, and best practices we can learn from them.

What returns automation looks like

Even for fully ecommerce stores, a majority of customers (56%) believe it’s the store’s responsibility to pay and arrange for return shipping. On top of that, more than half will check returns policies before placing an order.

So when a customer contacts your business to ask for a free return, what does that look like? It usually involves chatting to a customer service agent to arrange the shipping for returned items and issuing a refund. This can take hours, or even days if there’s a dispute.

When you automate your ecommerce returns using a service like DigitalGenius, you can create a workflow that makes processing returns easier.

For example, a customer gets in touch to return an item. In real-time, AI bots pick up the customer’s intent, check if their products are eligible for a return, update your CRM, CMS, and courier, and send the customer a prepaid return label. All this happens in a matter of minutes, without the need for human intervention (or human error). 

Benefits of returns automation

The benefits of automating returns aren’t limited to “one less task to handle manually”. Several benefits ultimately help to boost your bottom line.

Better customer experience 

These days customer expectations are high. They expect to get a response from customer services within 10 minutes of contact. If they’re waiting longer, customer satisfaction begins to fall. 

Automating product returns within the appropriate return window helps to address their concerns immediately. When businesses make returns easy it creates a better customer experience, which means happier customers!

Better supply chain and inventory management

When it comes to managing reverse logistics, automation technologies help to streamline the process. It does this by being able to pull and input information from multiple sources and tools you use at instant speed and scale.

DigitalGenius’ own research found that customer service agents will use between 5 and 8 different systems or apps to resolve inbound queries, such as returns. Using so many systems can complicate supply chain and inventory management. Automation can handle it with ease — freeing up your agents to work on more complex tasks.

Easier to scale

Many small businesses start processing returns by hand. However, if you want your business to grow, manual handling of returns isn’t scalable or sustainable. 

Returns automation helps to take the pressure off of you (and your employees), leaving everyone able to work on selling more products and otherwise building up your business.

Creates a competitive advantage

As we touched on earlier, your returns policy can be a conversion tool. This then creates a competitive advantage. 

If your competitors are falling short on expectations, your business can use return automation to get ahead with a hassle-free return experience. 

Examples of brands doing it right

Now you’re aware of what automating the returns process can be like and how it can benefit you, let’s take a look at brands that are successfully using automation.

G-Star

Dutch clothing and accessories brand G-Star has worldwide popularity. G-Star also faced spikes in support ticket volumes, so they wanted to solve customer problems without hiring even more staff. In comes automation.

DigitalGenius helped G-Star identify cases related to order status, return status, and return labels — all of which helped them achieve the following:

Automating the returns process and follow-up updates have allowed G-Star support staff freedom to work on driving more sales and revenue. 

ASOS

Our next example is ASOS, an online clothing store that is famous for its unlimited delivery model — which includes free returns. To return an item the customer needs to head to their website, decide the method of return, and fill in a returns form. The form includes product details and a return reason option.

From there the ASOS system will generate a QR code which the customer can either print off or show to the courier for them to scan.

This model of returns has allowed ASOS to be an industry leader and consistently achieve year-on-year profit.

SNIPES

Our final example is from SNIPES, one of the largest sneaker and streetwear retailers in Europe. When SNIPES approaches DigitalGenius, it had the issue of not being able to respond to spikes in volume. 

SNIPES also wanted to move away from repetitive issues (such as returns) so that its staff could focus on more complex cases. After taking on automation solutions, they saw the following results:

While it is impressive that the AI learned to automate 36% of German enquiries, what is even more useful for SNIPES is the 99% automation accuracy. This means that SNIPES can trust the automation to work without human intervention.

Returns automation best practices

From the case studies above, and through DigitalGenius’ research, we can offer these best practices for your business when it comes to automating returns:

  • Consider offering free returns. As standard, if you offer free returns, you’re likely to find customers are more comfortable shopping with you if they know returning is free.
  • Make your returns policy easily accessible. Along similar lines, your returns policy should be easy for customers to access and read. Your automation workflows can include a copy of the returns policy when a customer completes an order (saving them asking about it later).
  • Don’t make customers refer to third-party companies. Customers should be able to arrange their product returns with your business. Automating this conversation (and providing a return shipping label) is the easiest way for customers to make returns.
  • Offer convenient return methods. Customers like being able to choose their method of return — 44% prefer parcel drop-off, while 30% prefer home or work pickup. You can add a message in your automation flow to provide these options.

Following these best practices for returns ensures your business has the best chance of overcoming spikes in support ticket volume and post-holiday returns.

Get ready for the peak returns season with DigitalGenius

As the holiday season gathers pace, ecommerce businesses need to be ready for when those shoppers decide to return items. If you’re manually processing every return through a support agent, it will be easy to become overwhelmed and start seeing issues.

With the help of AI automation by DigitalGenius, you can build workflows that help deal with returns automatically. If the customer has a more complex issue, the AI also detects the need to route the query to an agent.

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