There are many names for it: Buyers remorse, change of heart and post-purchase regret, just to name a few. But whatever you call it, the results are the same. Each year numerous U.S. consumers return at least one item theyve purchased, adding a staggering amount of expense to many companies supply chains as much as $100 billion annually according to Aberdeen Research Group.

     

    This expense is especially pronounced for companies that sell heavy or large items, many of which are costly to transport and difficult to sell at full value once theyve been returned.

     

    As part of a 3PL that serves many of these companies, I cant shed much light on why some customers simply change their minds. However I can share several healthy habits that could reduce or eliminate many of the other reasons products make a U-turn.

     

    Super-Size Customer Preparation

    The customer may always be right. But right doesnt always equal accurate. Too often, people cant predict whether the items theyve purchased are going to fit until after theyre delivered. This can pose major problems for a delivery team faced with the impossible task of getting a 27-cubic-foot refrigerator through a 28-inch doorway or trying to maneuver an extra-long couch into an extra-short elevator. It also increases the risk of product damage if the mismatch isnt evident until well into a delivery, when teams suddenly find themselves in a tight squeeze. And of course, it means more product returns.

     

    For this reason, thorough customer preparation is a must. During the point of sale, product dimensions and delivery clearance requirements should be clearly spelled out. Customers also should get written instructions that remind them to measure doorways, passageways and other interior or exterior spaces that will be used during delivery and to double-check whether or not the product theyve purchased is equal to or smaller than the space theyve purchased it for.

     

    Granted, this may result in the occasional canceled order. But considering that poorly fitting products tend to get returned anyway, it should wind up saving your company considerable money in the long run.

               

    Give Customers a Call

    Weve all heard stories from friends who stayed at home for a delivery only to have drivers arrive several hours late or miss the appointment altogether. And unfortunately many of them end with and then I told them to cancel my order.

     

    Precise timing really is everything in this day and age, when so many busy professionals have to make special arrangements to be at home to accept their weekday shipments. And call-aheads can be especially useful for this purpose.

     

    By phoning customers the night before a scheduled delivery, your company can confirm the time window your delivery team is aiming for and dialogue with your customers about any issues that might impact their availability. Then, by calling on the day of the delivery when your truck is 30 minutes to an hour away, you can not only gain Brownie points with customers who cant afford to wait around for hours, youll also prevent your delivery team from wasting valuable time trying to deliver to not at homes.

     

    Should your company be unable to afford this level of customer service, theres always the option of automated call-aheads or e-mails used in conjunction with a dedicated voice mail line or e-mail address that customers can contact if they need to change anything about their appointment. Every little thing you can do to minimize customer inconvenience truly helps.

               

    Inspect and Re-Inspect

    Its inevitable: Products that are defective or clearly damaged are going to be returned   which is why its smart business to catch them as early as possible in the supply chain. This is especially true with big-ticket items.

     

    Make detailed product inspection a critical part of your distribution operations both when youre receiving new shipments of products at your DC and when theyre being loaded for delivery. At the very least, it will help you avoid the unnecessary expense of transporting a less-than-perfect product that expensive last mile and back again.

     

    While youre inspecting, keep a careful eye on product packaging. Even if the product thats inside is perfect, if your customer sees a box or crate that looks like its been through the wringers, shes more likely to think youre trying to drop off a flawed item and to ask your company to ship her another one.

     

    And dont forget about inspecting for shipment accuracy. Many SKUs look alike, so as your team is loading shipments, it should be extra-sure that the make, color and model/style going on the truck are exactly what the customer ordered. Otherwise your DC will undoubtedly see that item again.

     

    Train Your Drivers to Be More than Just Drivers

    Even with careful inspection procedures, there may be times when your company inadvertently delivers a slightly defective but still usable product. Perhaps its a washing machine with a small dent on the side or a big-screen television with a tiny scratch on its frame.

     

    In these cases, the demeanor, skills and decision-making ability of your delivery team could be the tie-breaker between whether that customer winds up keeping his purchase or kicking it back.

     

    For example, if your drivers have white-glove training, they may be able to provide some minor cosmetic touch-ups that alleviate your customers concerns. Additionally, if your company authorizes your delivery team members to offer customers a slight damage allowance based on clearly defined parameters, you may find that customers are more willing to overlook the flaws and live with what youve delivered.

     

    This is returns gate-keeping at its most immediate, personal and effective.

     

    Dont Underestimate the Value of Premium Services

    Its easy to assume that premium service is all about timing, especially faster timing. However many manufacturers and retailers of furniture and other big-ticket items know that speed isnt the only extra worth paying a little more for.

     

    By having your logistics professionals perform product touch-up at the DC and thoughtful services like dusting and cleaning as items are unloaded, youll help make deliveries look like the new products they are and diminish the possibility that your customer will think theyre getting a used or aging SKU.

     

    If you offer product set-up and installation (where permissible by state law) at the time of delivery, your company could help prevent a good portion of products that are returned simply because customers cant figure out how to get their new purchases up and running.

     

    Ditto with product familiarization sessions; use your driver teams to give customers a brief tutorial on how complex products work, and those customers may be less likely to return a product simply because its got too many unintelligible bells and whistles.

     

    Admittedly, these services do go above-and-beyond many industrys standards, with the price tag to match. However theyre still far less expensive than the extra transportation, accounting, product disposition and other activities associated with product returns. And if that isnt a good return on your investment, I dont know what is.

     

    Will OShea is chief marketing officer of 3PD, one of the industrys largest providers of last-mile logistics and delivery services for heavy goods. The company provides services in nearly 500 cities throughout North America. He can be reached at woshea@3pld.com or at 678/631-3361.

     

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