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Opinion: Diminishing returns by reducing errors


Errors made during despatch causes lost productivity and risk sales opportunities, not to mention customer loyalty. For these reasons retailers should be regularly evaluating all their eCommerce despatch processes, says Jonathan Bellwood, founder and CEO of eCommerce warehouse management and fulfilment specialists, Peoplevox. This includes the efficient handling of returns but this is often an area which gets overlooked and causes challenges.

New research published by Barclaycard last week showed that retailers are struggling under the weight of returns. Similar research, also published by Barclaycard back in May, suggested that more than half – some 57% – said that the day-to-day cost of dealing with returns is negatively impacting their business and more than a fifth of current high-street retailers suggested they are choosing not to sell online due to concerns over the costs of managing the delivery and returns process.

While the customer may well have the option to return or exchange unused goods because they have simply changed their mind, provided goods are in original condition, the sooner the retailer can make the refund or have the exchange shipped out, the better.

To handle your eCommerce returns well, dedicate a specific area of the warehouse and assign a member of staff to check every order for defects or for repackaging. Your warehouse management software should allow operators to scan all necessary barcodes when repackaging an item, eliminating the need for any typing or careful human work, besides maybe folding. Not only does this save time, it also reduces the chance of a mistake being made.

Clearly prevention is better than cure, so ensuring your online product descriptions accurately depict each item can help to avoid any misunderstandings for the customer when the product is delivered. Use multiple high-quality photographs and succinct yet descriptive copy that includes all important information such as measurements, colour, or necessary product care.

Customer reviews are often a very good way of having these issues flagged up before the customer makes their purchase, particularly with women’s fashion, where sizing can generally vary between manufacturers.

Also, keep track of just how many returns have been received and the reasons why. A warehouse management system will allow you to have full visibility on every item, as well as logging the reason for every return. Armed with this intelligence, you may be able to identify a common trend in your returns and take appropriate action.

Without a warehouse management system you can only rely on your despatch team’s ability to correctly identify a product which can get difficult and lead to inaccuracies such as wrong size or colour. With a dedicated eCommerce WMS these kinds of errors should be flagged up at the picking stage when the item is scanned. If it isn’t, the item being scanned again at the despatch bench is another opportunity for the system to notify the user of an error that might be missed by the human eye.

Streamlining despatch

To reduce the chances of errors which subsequently lead to avoidable returns it is worth considering the following problem areas:

Manual address entry

If you are manually entering addresses then you are relying on the accuracy of humans. Not only are operators likely to make mistakes, it also takes an unnecessary amount of time.

With warehouse management software, all customer addresses are stored on the system with the order details. When the items arrive at the despatch bench and the order is scanned, the despatch label will print automatically with the correct details, saving time and reducing errors.

Manually printed despatch notes

The more that your operators have to do manually, the longer every process is going to take. If you need to go into the back-end of your website every time, create a PDF, confirm the settings, and then press print it is either going to be rushed and done wrong, or it will slow the entire despatch down, causing a bottleneck of orders. With a WMS, the despatch notes for every order will be printed automatically with the address label.

Lack of visibility on despatched orders

If you can’t track which orders have been despatched in a day then you can’t monitor or report on performance. This is incredibly important for identifying what targets your operators are currently meeting and how you can improve.

By using a WMS, every order has a status assigned to it, whether it has been received, allocated to a picker, or despatched. As the order moves through each stage, the status is updated in the system so, when the carriers have all left the warehouse at the end of the day, you will have full visibility on exactly how many orders were despatched.

Slow order status updating

When an action is completed against an order, the status is changed and this change can be used to trigger communication with the customer. Without a WMS, this order status update has to be done manually by confirming it in your website admin panel which can be slow and inaccurate, leaving customers wondering where their orders are.

Jonathan Bellwood is founder and CEO of eCommerce warehouse management and fulfilment specialists, Peoplevox. Clients include J Barbour & Sons, Mothercare, Oliver Bonas and Surfdome.

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