As retailers increasingly pursue omni-channel strategies, a focal point must be to ensure easy customer returns for more. Let’s run through the current best practices.

The increasingly digital way in which retailers appeal to customers has brought along a myriad of new ways in which we can purchase products. A customer now has the ability to browse a store, and, later that day, pull out their smartphone and order an item directly to their home.

But if a customer is dissatisfied with a product or wants a different one, they now have just as many ways to return it.

Let’s be honest — nobody likes returns. Not only are they often a hassle for consumers, but they represent begrudging cost centers for businesses. However, offering a seamless return policy across all retail channels is crucial to creating lasting customer loyalty.

Return to Sender

It’s no accident that the largest and most successful retailers have quick and easy return processes in place. It sends the message to customers that their business is so valuable that a company will accept a loss just to accommodate them — and as those customers wield increasing power with regard to where they buy, they demand this level of attention across all stages of the purchasing process, including returns.

Nordstrom boasts the ideal, hassle-free return process. They’ll accept a return at any time, with or without receipt, as long as it’s in good condition. You can return items purchased online to physical locations, and if you want to return them by mail, they provide pre-paid postage labels.

Even more inviting, they have no dedicated returns section — any retail sales associate will happily refund your purchase, offer an exchange, or provide store credit.

L.L. Bean is similar. Their products are guaranteed to last, and as such, they’ll accept returns from any location, at any time, for any reason. Unless you’re an L.L Bean Visa cardmember, they’ll charge you a small shipping fee for mail returns, but the sheer fairness and openness of the policy more than makes up for this small deterrent.

And, in general, the more effectively a return policy is communicated to customers, the less friction it will cause when those customers turn around and, well, return a product.

Aligning Your Channels

As every retailer knows, a return policy that appears outwardly clean and simple must be grounded in strong foundational backchannels — this starts with refining your supply chain logistics.

For one, businesses should process returns against the original orders, meaning that when a return comes in, both employee and customer can track the total purchase history of the product, eliminating confusion and ensuring correct compensation. Treating returns as a separate transaction is simply a nonstarter.

And as returns come in, make sure you track that data by channel, in terms of which products are most frequently returned, as well as through which channel they were bought and what location supplied it.

This way, you can forecast future inventories for distribution centers and brick-and-mortar locations, ease the logistical burden, and address the root causes of frequent returns as quickly as possible.

As important as returns are to fostering customer loyalty, producing an effective policy isn’t always a simple process. As companies increasingly go digital to enhance their omni-channel offerings, the level of analytical and technical complexity increases.

More than ever, business are partnering with transformative leaders (like us) in digital strategy to expand their omni-channel offerings and provide the best possible service to their customers.

Like I said, no one likes a return. So start strategizing today on how to make them a small, yet seamless function of your omni-channel retail infrastructure.