Handling returns with a 3PL

By Oleg Mikhailenko
Published in Solutions
July 22, 2022
4 min read
Handling returns with a 3PL

So you want to start your business selling products online. You have an awesome idea for merchandise, good web-design skills, and are a natural at marketing. But you have to admit that you’re a bit nervous. Don’t worry. Understanding ecommerce fulfillment doesn’t have to be rocket science. E-fulfillment is a process with a lot of moving pieces, yes, but when you break it down step-by-step, it actually becomes quite simple. But there’s a couple of tricky things to think about first.

In ecommerce third party fulfillment can make a merchant’s life infinitely easier. Instead of having to fulfill orders yourself out of your garage or home office, or negotiate long shipping times with a dropshipping manufacturer overseas that may or may not have the quality you’re looking for, third party logistics companies offer the best of both worlds. But what happens when a customer isn’t quite satisfied with a product or doesn’t need it anymore, and wants to make a return? Is the 3PL still responsible for processing the item in such an event? Read on for a short overview of the fulfillment process, how to deal with returns, and what you can do to minimize them in the future.

The fulfillment process explained

When broken down, there are four major steps every seller has to go through, you included, before your goods finally land on the customer’s doorstep: distribution center integration, inventory management, the actual order fulfillment itself, and any and all returns processing.

First comes integration. In the digital age, the vast majority of e-commerce retail outlets have their shops directly connected with ecommerce order fulfillment companies that service those orders on the merchant’s behalf. Having good, effective omnichannel technology is key to ensure there’s no interruptions or issues with phantom inventory.

Then comes inventory management and receiving. Pallets of your merchandise are shipped to a dedicated ecommerce fulfillment warehouse, which are then subsequently logged into inventory. If your fulfillment company starts slacking on intake, however, your goods can sit in the loading bay for hours or even days, hanging in an unfortunate state of limbo. Best practices dictate that you ought to make sure your received goods are logged into inventory within only a couple days.

Now comes the most important part— the actual picking, packing, and shipping. When an order is placed and is routed directly to the distribution center, your preferred ecommerce fulfillment solution partner is responsible for picking the right items from the pallets, selecting the right box, cushioning them with a fair share of packing materials, and sending them off to be delivered.

Finally, returns, which is the part we’re focusing on today. As much as you wish your customers would be 100% satisfied 100% of the time, the simple fact is that returns can’t be avoided. It’s important to have infrastructure in place to support the exchange or returning of goods for a refund. Customers that aren’t burdened by an overly lengthy or obtuse returns process are far more likely to shop from you again in the future, for merchandise they’ll be satisfied with and maybe even recommend to friends.

Why do customers return items in the first place?

Usually it’s the case with returns that the item simply doesn’t fit the customer’s lifestyle for whatever reason. In the case of clothing, for instance, returns typically have little to do with quality. Instead, it’s often the case that the item didn’t fit, or was a slightly different color than appeared on the customer’s screen, or didn’t suit the customer as well as they thought it might. Other times, it does indeed have to do with quality. The item isn’t up to snuff, so it gets sent back. This can be minimized as much as possible by ensuring that quality control standards are strictly adhered to, but in every batch it’s inevitable that there will be a couple of duds. Lastly, the customer may change their mind while the item is shipping and decide they don’t need or want it any longer.

The importance of customer service in returns

Believe it or not, a good customer service representative can make or break your business. If you’re not yet in the position to bring someone on in a customer support role (although we definitely recommend looking into the many companies that offer customer service outsourcing!), being a customer service representative is one of the many hats you have to wear as a beginner ecommerce merchant. It’s okay if you’re unsure how to do a job like this. Although there are a number of soft skills useful or even integral to being a good customer service representative, qualities like these are ones that can be developed over time.

Let’s say one of your customers is requesting a return or exchange. You or your customer service partner needs to think extensively over the following questions. How many days does your buyer have to decide whether or not to keep the item? Who’s responsible for paying return shipping? Taking on the role of customer service means that it’s wise to have all this lined out ahead of time. From then, the representative is responsible for creating a return ticket, providing a shipping label to the customer, and instructing them how to send the product back to the 3PL.

In conclusion

If you’re looking for a third party ecommerce fulfillment service to handle both shipping and returns for you, P2Pseller has you covered. By leveraging the power of the shared economy, we allow literally anyone to offer warehousing and fulfillment services on an open and democratized marketplace. With your P2Pseller account, you can directly connect all of your selling channels, fulfillment partners, and multi-channel management tools to make sure each and every one of your orders is fulfilled without a hitch. Register a free account with us today to browse the full measure of our offerings and see exactly what we can do for you and your business. We’re ecstatic to partner with you as you take the next steps to grow your business bigger and better than ever before.


Previous Article
What to know before starting your own warehouse

Oleg Mikhailenko

Co-Founder, CEO P2Pseller

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