1) What is an International eCommerce Return?
Creating a global brand through eCommerce portals comes with multiple benefits. While most articles on international eCommerce wax poetic about the pros, and there are indeed many positives, this one addresses the elephant in the room that is international eCommerce return.
International eCommerce returns is a term used to cover the return logistics services of eCommerce brands that have customers abroad who would like to return/exchange their purchases. This entails reversal in the onward shipment process along with a few additional stops along the way.
While scaling your operations with strategic expansion worldwide brings a truckload of new sales, customers, and exciting opportunities, a proportional increase in your eCommerce store's international returns hitches a ride with it.
2) What are the steps involved in International eCommerce Returns?
Almost the same as forward shipping, reverse logistics has a few extra steps added in for your convenience. The list of services you can include depends on your shipping partner choice for your international eCommerce returns.
2.1) Create an International eCommerce Returns Portal
An international eCommerce returns portal allows your customers to initiate returns. This facility enables a customer to input the necessary information and validates the purchase in accordance with your return policy. Once all data has been verified, this portal will generate a return shipping label. This feature reduces the effort and time spent on returns while creating a better experience for customers.
2.2) Location-Based Filtering of Return Requests
You have the option of automating your shipping software to segregate requests for return by location. In general, shipping providers tend to have more robust connectivity networks for delivery, pick-up and warehousing encompassing certain territories. By looking up the areas of high returns, you will be able to plan your strategic partnerships with various logistics companies in order to cover your customers' locations when it comes to international eCommerce returns.
2.3) Assign an International eCommerce Return Carrier
Once your location-wise logistics have been sorted, your international eCommerce return carrier operating in that neck of the woods can process the return shipping as per your agreement. This could include several operations such as picking up the package from the customer, scanning the product for the potential of resale, delivering to a partner repacker and reseller in that area or warehousing the goods till they can be bundled with other returns and shipped back to you.
2.4) Create an International eCommerce Return Label
The most crucial document of international eCommerce Returns is a tiny and unassuming piece of paper heralded as the return label. Right from contacts and addresses to the type and weight of the product, a return label imparts the requisite information to handlers and machines. The return label is plugged in with all the information required to process reverse logistics in readable data and a barcode.
2.5) Process all Fees and Documentation for Customs
Just as in outbound shipments, return shipments' customs, and documentation processes vary from country to country. Although paperwork might put you off, fees and documentation for customs are a big deal and need your keen eye to ensure everything is sorted out for the smooth sailing of your shipment.
This is a process where you will benefit from your partnership with a shipping company. While you can have a basic understanding of how things work and what legality each form covers, it definitely is in the best interest of your business to utilize the know-how of your shipping partner to ensure your returning package doesn't get rejected at the port.
3) Four ways to organize International eCommerce Returns
When you choose to open up your business to customers overseas, you agree to deal with the mammoth issue of international eCommerce returns. They can be tough to understand, process, and implement, but listed below are standard returns operations that form the foundation of routine reverse logistics.
3.1) Pre-paid Return Label
When you choose to tuck in a pre-paid return label into the original outbound shipment, you are building trust. By adding a pre-paid return label, you desire to make sure your customer's shopping experience with your store will be pleasant.
However, if you would like to wield some power while drawing up contracts with shipping companies or postal services, it is better to choose this path only if you have sufficient return volumes. When your return volumes are high enough, you can offset the cost of return and also bring the topic of discounts to the table.
You could even consider grouping items of similar dimensions when you plan your packaging and work the standard return cost into the pricing. But, if you have multiple sizes and values in stock, creating custom pricing for each item will be tedious and expensive. In cases like these, return shipping is not a great idea as it could eat into your profit.
3.2) Write Them Off
Indeed a choice, this one needs to be considered with care. You could attract customers who are willing to abuse this principle only so they can get their hands on your goodies free and clear.
However, when the cost of return shipping is pinching your pocket, this is undoubtedly an option for low-priced products. This works predominantly in the case when the price of return shipping may be far greater than the cost of your product. This is definitely not the ideal option for high value or rare products.
If you do choose to provide your customers with this solution, ensure you have an airtight international eCommerce returns policy for your store.
3.3) Postage Refund
It is common knowledge that international shipping can take a long time. It can take anything from several days to weeks for your customer's order to reach them. And it is the same, if not more, in the case of international eCommerce returns, where your products may need to go through additional checkpoints and checklists.
When you request your customer to ship the product back to you and await their refund, you lose all control of the return shipping process. You do not control the cost nor the time it will take for the product to come back home to you. You could offer a postage refund the minute the package gets locked into the logistics service, but can you be certain that the product is not damaged and worth the cost of international return shipping?
When customers wait for the shipment to reach you before getting a postage refund, they will get more anxious every passing day. This will lead to the possibility of a poor review, which could impact potential customers.
Of course, if the customer decides to pay up for a premium service in order for the package to reach you at full speed, it will come at a premium price that you will have to shell out for.
3.4) Returns Solutions
While domestic returns are something you may be able to handle, international shipping is a whole other ballgame with a different set of rules. Always pair up with a shipping company to process your international eCommerce returns. This makes it convenient for both your customer and you to process the returns.
With some logistics providers offering a quick quality check on the returned merchandise, you can also make better decisions about your returns operations. This helps you provide faster refunds to customers while the logistics company can store the product in their warehouse until they can consolidate them into a low-cost shipment back to you.
You also have the option of hiring agencies that offer to repack and resell your product within the same destination country for a quick turnaround of cash while nullifying your return shipping costs.
4) Four Tips for handling International eCommerce Returns like a Champ
Here are some tips that you can incorporate into your international eCommerce returns operations to maximize on the benefits.
4.1) Customer's Choice
While the most uncomplicated choice in the shipping of international eCommerce returns is to leave it to your customer, you are also offsetting the hassles and controls to them. This is the least customer-friendly solution as you are not required by law to reimburse them for returns. Since customers want nothing to do with the merchandise once they wish to return the product, this choice will cost you in terms of conversion. However, simply by extending the return period, you rely on the possibility that returns become a low priority for your customer or that they become attached to your merchandise.
4.2) Partner Up
By signing up with a shipping provider for your international eCommerce returns logistics, you can take charge of your shipping costs by offering high shipping volumes in return for well-discounted rates. You can also buddy up with local repackers and resellers to prevent an international return shipping journey. Local repackers and resellers will retail the item on your behalf in the local marketplace and take a small percentage for their services.
4.3) Offset Costs
Before they even begin to window-shop on eCommerce sites, most customers look out for the bold "free returns" sign. This habit is, logically, more prevalent in the case of eCommerce businesses dealing with fashion and jewellery. While you don't want to bear the cost of international eCommerce returns on your shoulder, especially if you are a young business, you could deduct the cost from the refund. This will also benefit customers who won't have to shell out for the return shipping costs. More customers lean towards the potential of easy and fast returns rather than a full refund.
4.4) Outsource Returns
Consider roping local third-party logistics providers for your international eCommerce returns in the countries you are selling to. The onus of handling and processing your merchandise, including all administration related tasks, would rest with them. They can also plan your returns by combining them into cargos to cut your shipping costs. You can also arrange refunds quicker as these companies can assess your products on your behalf. While this can generally be an expensive option, it could work out reasonably well if you are an eCommerce retailer with a high return rate. Make sure the contract between your store, warehouse and the third party is clear and concise.
5) Ten Working Ways to reduce International eCommerce Returns
Whether or not you have already dipped your toes in the magical waters of international eCommerce, you already know that you have to do everything in your power to cut down your return rates.
5.1) Plenty of Snaps
As an international eCommerce store, your customers do not have the same advantage as walking into a physical retail store and inspecting the merchandise before purchase. An eCommerce store's best practice would be to include as many clear product photos and videos as possible in your store.
5.2) Words help Convert
Nothing speaks louder than a customer's words. Strong evidence of shopping behavior points to higher conversions resulting from positive reviews of your products on your store and other websites.
5.3) Pack like a Pro
The emphasis on providing well-packaged goods for shipping cannot be highlighted enough. Going the extra mile with strong packaging ensures that the likelihood of damaged goods reaching the customer is next to nil.
5.4) Speedy Delivery
When you pair up with a logistics provider, ensure you choose one with excellent service combined with reasonable pricing. By making sure the package reaches your customer in good time, you reduce any post-purchase anxiety, they are likely to experience.
5.5) Longer Returns
Keep the timeline of international logistics processes in mind when you plan your return policies for international shipping. By offering more prolonged periods of return on goods traveling overseas, you can make the customers feel at ease. It has been observed by several retailers that more extended return periods result in lesser returns by customers.
5.6) Show those Options
Along with an extended return period, offer your customers flexibility in your returns. Give them multiple options and modes, and ensure they are happy with your returns service. While this will not directly impact your rate of returns, satisfied customers are more likely to request exchange or store credit which will keep your bottom line safe.
5.7) Tailor to Fit
Take the time to design a unique policy for international eCommerce returns. Keep in mind all the time-consuming processes that are involved in this logistics process and alter your standard policy accordingly.
5.8) Pre-paid Shipping
Chucking in a pre-paid return label never hurt any eCommerce business owner. Plenty of shipping companies only charge you for return labels that are used or are prepared to refund you for the same if they are unused.
5.9) Flexi Refunds
Show flexibility while offering refunds to your customers. This allows your customers to feel in control of their shopping experience while your store's policies can navigate them towards certain decisions.
5.10) Low or Free
Offer the best possible return cost to your customer when possible. If it falls within your budget, you can also consider offering free returns. This is another way to ensure customer satisfaction while you have several ways to recoup the shipping cost.
6) FAQ's on International eCommerce Returns
6.1) How does eCommerce handle returns?
An eCommerce store handles returns by creating a return policy, automating the return process via shipping software, strategic partnership with shipping companies for low-cost returns, and speedy disbursal of refunds. While these are just a few key points, shipping companies provide an endless roster of services which can be edited and added to your returns process.
6.2) Where do eCommerce returns go?
eCommerce returns are either sent back to the store, repacked and resold in the customers' location, repaired, donated or disposed of.
6.3) How do I do an international return?
If the value of the goods is way lower than the shipping cost, you could consider letting the customer keep it and refund them for their purchase. When it comes to international returns, adding a prepaid return label to the outbound shipment is always a good idea. Your other option would be to have the customer initiate and pay for the return and refund them the postage fee.