Packaging Strategies for Efficient Returns

By Katelan Cunningham · November 8, 2016

Returns are not the enemy — at least not in e-commerce. At brick and mortar stores, products are most often returned because they're faulty in some way. On the other hand, most online purchases are returned because they weren't exactly what the customer was expecting. With a computer screen being the sole representation of your product, its color, size, material and other details can easily be lost in translation.

Instead of thinking of returns as a necessary evil, great e-commerce brands use them as an opportunity to craft the customer experience — starting with the packaging.

 Packaging Strategies for Efficient Returns

Making returns easy on your customers

With online shopping, our standards for convenience are high and our tolerance for returning purchases is low. This means that the more difficult a company's returns are, the less likely people are to buy in the first place. In fact, 85% of online customers said they wouldn't repeat business with a company that has a difficult return process, and 40% of e-commerce shoppers have held onto unwanted products because the returns process was to much of a hassle. Neither scenario is good for your brand image or your customer base, and both can be alleviated with more intentional packaging to simplify returns for your customer.

Double seal poly mailers: Returnable poly mailers have two adhesive strips — a bottom one for you to ship a product to the customer and a second one for the return trip, should the customer need to send it back. There's even a perforation to separate the strips for clean, easy tearing.

To make sure that your return-ready poly mailer doesn't hit the bin right after it's ripped open, we'd advise using some crafty copy on your mailer or a sticker telling people not to toss their packaging until they're positive about their purchase.

Pull-tab boxes: Instead of taping your mailer boxes, you can get them with perforated adhesive strips that make them easy to open for minimal damage and easy returns. These cost more than regular boxes, but they're a great investment for products that you know will be shipped back, like try-on kits.

Spare seals: While it's hard for us to imagine, not everyone has a supply closet filled with packing tape. That's why JackThreads includes a seal with their TryOut kits to ensure that absolutely everything their customer needs to return the kit is included in the kit. Their statement orange peel-and-stick seal is signature part of their kit.

Return shipping labels: Printing out a return shipping labels can be a bit of a drag. At-home printers seem to be an artifact of a bygone era when we still had to print our boarding passes.

Most shipping services require you to pre-pay for return shipping labels, so it's an extra investment in your customer service. FYI — Endicia and Shippo have pay-when-used solutions. Even if you do have to pre-pay for your shipping label, this is something that you may want to test on try-on kits or products that are returned frequently.

An additional return shipping container: Poly mailers are light and easy to fold, so they're the go-to return container to include inside boxes or mailers to make shipping super easy on your customer. You can opt for branded or unbranded, but either will certainly be appreciated.

 Packaging Strategies for Efficient Returns

Making returns easy on your team

The more time, resources, and materials your team spends on returns, the more money you lose. To optimize your returns flow, it's best if your returns are processed in the same place that they're repacked, close to the packaging you'll need. Below are some materials we suggest. 

Sturdy containers: If your customers are going to return products in the same container that you ship in, skip the flimsy stuff and opt for something really reliable. That could mean thicker cardboard, reinforced paper mailers, or double seal poly mailers — whatever you need to make sure that you're packaging is built to withstand a round trip.

Clear zip bags: Unlike inner bags that are sealed with adhesive, zip top bags won't be ripped open (most likely), so they're more likely to be returned with your product. Even if they can't be reused, your product has extra protection en route back to you, making it viable for resale and easier to restock. 

Minimal inner packaging: Of course you don't want your product to arrive damaged — which is another reason for returns —but drowning your product in excess crinkle paper isn't easy on your budget. Whether your void filler is crinkle paper, butcher paper, tissue paper or bubble wrap, use only what you need. Unlike containers like boxes and double seal mailers, void filler is most likely going to be tossed on arrival, so it's a loss. A necessary one, but a loss none the less. 

To minimize the loss, choose the void filler that's most efficient for the product your shipping and use only the amount you need to be certain that your product will arrive to it's destination without dents, tears, or breaks.

While you're crafting your returns flow to be easier on your customer, try using your package design to promote brand transparency.

Innovative brands use Lumi to manage scalable and sustainable packaging.

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