In Customer Centric, Delivery
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Creating Efficient Returns Processes


eturns are an inevitable aspect of retail operations, and how companies handle them can significantly impact customer satisfaction, operational costs, and business success. As online shopping continues to be a dominant force in the retail industry, creating efficient returns processes is a critical component of customer service and brand loyalty. 

Total returns for the retail industry amounted to $743 billion in merchandise in 2023, according to a report by the National Retail Federation and Appriss Retail. The total return rate for 2023 was 14.5% of retail sales. Online sales have a higher return rate, with 17.6% or $247 billion of merchandise purchased online returned. Yet, only 19% of retailers have a strategic returns program in place. 

Here’s a look at some strategies for creating seamless and efficient returns processes that benefit both customers and businesses. 

Clear and Transparent Returns Policy

The foundation of an efficient returns process is a clear and transparent returns policy. A straightforward and convenient returns policy is a powerful tool for building customer loyalty. Sixty-four percent of consumers have purchased from one retailer over another purely because they had a better returns policy, according to a recent survey from Optoro. By prioritizing the customer’s ease and satisfaction, businesses can turn returns processes into a competitive advantage. 

To make the returns process easier, make sure your policy is easy to understand, prominently displayed on your website, and readily accessible to customers. Clearly outline return eligibility criteria, timeframes, and procedures to set clear expectations. Clear communication and simple procedures can go a long way towards turning a potentially cumbersome and time-consuming returns process into a positive experience, reinforcing trust and encouraging future purchases.

product return
Sixty-four percent of consumers have purchased from one retailer over another purely because they had a better returns policy, according to a recent survey from Optoro.

Utilize Technology Solutions

Returns management is a big challenge for retailers with 74% of retailers citing returns as their top challenge, according to a survey from Zebra Technologies. Seventy percent of retailers say the pressure is mounting to improve the efficiency and expense of managing online orders, returns, and the fulfillment process. The majority of retailers plan to deploy reverse logistics technology and other technology solutions by 2026 to better manage fulfillment pressures. 

Retailers can improve the returns experience by providing customers with easy-to-use online forms or self-service portals where they can initiate return requests. Automated return portals allow customers to easily begin the returns process, generate shipping labels and track the return package’s progress. Logistics management systems can help businesses track, monitor, and manage returns efficiently. Data analytics capabilities enable retailers to analyze return data to identify trends and potential improvements.

No Box, No Label, No Problem

Companies are making the returns process increasingly easier and more flexible by offering multiple return options catered to different customer preferences and circumstances. These might include in-store returns for online purchases, mail-in returns, drop-off locations, curbside returns or box-free, label-free returns. Logistics companies are offering box-free, label-free returns to more customers in order to enhance the returns experience, lower the cost of returns, and provide more sustainable returns options for shoppers. 

UPS recently acquired Happy Returns. Happy Returns enables consumers to return online purchases in person, no box or receipt is required, with a network of drop-off locations throughout the U.S. By combining Happy Returns’ established drop-off points with UPS’s logistics network and footprint, box-free, label-free returns will soon be available at over 12,000 locations in the U.S. Pitney Bowes and PackageHub have launched a drop-off network for product returns with no box or label required. The network features nearly 1,000 locations for returns across the U.S., with roughly 50% of the population within 10 miles of a location. 

An efficient returns process is a critical element of customer service and brand loyalty. By making returns easy and hassle-free, businesses can turn a potentially negative experience into a positive interaction. Addressing returns with a strategic, customer-focused approach can help businesses not only streamline the returns process but also deepen customer relationships.

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