Aug. 8 2006 04:54 PM

Every merchandiser understands intimately how returns processing can jeopardize the smallest or largest business operation. If not handled efficiently, returned merchandise can put a damper not only on a companys productivity, but it can also devastate that ever-fragile bottom line. This is one of the reasons so many merchandisers choose to use service options offered by the U.S. Postal Service for easy package shipping solutions for returned merchandise.


Two Easy Pieces

USPS Delivery Confirmation is one very popular service merchandisers find helpful in tracking the arrival of returns packages, says John Gullo, marketing specialist for the USPS Package Services Department in Arlington, Virginia. This service is available for both Merchandise Returns and Courtesy Reply options offered by the Postal Service. Before we hand the package back to the merchant, we scan the packages barcode, and then our merchants can log-on to our Web site and enter their tracking numbers in order to pull the information from the Web site on when the package was returned to the merchant, explains Gullo.


Merchandisers offer their consumers two basic methods of product return. Merchandise Return Service provides consumers with pre-paid and pre-addressed return labels that a consumer can affix to the package to be returned to a merchandiser. The consumer puts that label on his package and puts the package back into the mail stream, says Gullo. When the package reaches the post office in the neighborhood of the merchant, the Postal Service will weigh and rate the package and then calculate the cost of the postage, which is then deducted from that merchants account.


Gullo says this service is available with value-added options, including insurance and Delivery Confirmation, which are probably the most popular services merchants use, he says. Another Postal Service option gaining in popularity because of its ease-of-use is labels. If they have an Internet presence, merchants can actually have their consumers request their return labels online, where consumers can print the necessary label right out from their own personal printers and then tape the label to their package for shipment, explains Gullo.


Another option offered to merchants is the Postal Services Shipping Labels API (application program interface), which allows consumers to print shipping labels from their local printers. Its a customer-convenience point of view in that consumers can simply affix the label to their packages, take them to the nearest post office, have them weighed and pay for the postage, adds Gullo. Merchants using this option can also opt to add Delivery Confirmation and/or insurance to their packages.



First introduced this summer on the Postal Services Web site, the shipping centers Click-N-Ship application offers merchants and their consumers a unique opportunity. Its a shipping label application consumers can also use for returning an item, notes Gullo. All they have to do is go online, register and print out a label with the exact postage included. Then they just have to affix the label to the package and send it on its way.


Although the Postal Service has offered the ability to print Priority Mail labels for over a year, the programs new feature allows consumers to choose either Priority Mail or Express Mail labels. And by using their credit cards, consumers can easily purchase the exact amount of postage right online. So now, when your carrier comes by, all he has to do is pick up your package because the postage is already on it, says Gullo.


What the Postal Service is constantly trying to do is to make the entire process more convenient for both the merchant and also the consumer, continues Gullo. We are continually developing package solutions for customers that offer convenience and can save time by not having to make unnecessary trips to the post office to perform these transactions. All of these are examples of just how easy to use and convenient Postal Service solutions can be. So we continue to offer consumers easy access to shipping labels and convenient applications.


Gullo notes that the shipping center was not specifically built so consumers can easily return items online. It was actually built so customers can ship outbound packages, he says. But it turns out to be a great application for the return side of the operation as well. If consumers are going to have to pay for the package to be returned anyway, why not save time by allowing consumers to go online and print the label and the necessary postage?


Designing Labels

Merchants must apply for a Merchandise Return Service Permit, and all label designs must be approved by the Postal Service, which is usually done through the merchants local post office. We help our customers design their labels according to USPS regulations, states Gullo, noting that specific elements need to be displayed on the label. The approval process is outlined and fully explained in the Domestic Mail Manual (DMM), available on the Postal Services Web site.


Online label designs must also be approved by the Postal Service, and customers must pay the permit fee before utilizing this service. We have a department that can help customers integrate the API, or Web tool, into their Web sites so that labels are accessible directly from merchants Web sites, Gullo explains.


Tracking Data

Information visibility was never clearer than the system the Postal Service offers its commercial customers. All transactions relating to a particular merchant are collected into a file, which is then made available to the merchant using the transmittal method of the merchants own choice. The flexible system allows information to be transmitted either via the Internet, through a dial-up server using a modem or through electronic data interchange (EDI). We send them all information pertaining to their daily transactions based on how they are set up to receive this information whether its via the Internet, EDI or through a dial-up server, says.


Merchants can set up their systems to automatically download their daily transaction information. They can then pull that information into a tracking database or into their customer service department database, which allows them instantaneous visibility of the status of their incoming packages, adds Gullo.


With the different options the Postal Service offers for processing returned merchandise, merchants and consumers alike will enjoy the convenience of hassle-free and speedy returns.


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