eCommerce Returns: 8 Tips for Optimizing Your eCommerce Product Return Processes

eCommerce returns have become an unavoidable reality in the world of digital retail. No matter how appealing your product images or descriptive the copy, customers sometimes end up unsatisfied with their online purchases once they arrive at their doorstep.

Industry data shows that returns from online retail sales are notoriously high, as much as 20% to 30%. Offering hassle-free returns is now a must for eCommerce merchants competing for customer acquisition and retention.

In this article, we’ll explore best practices that direct-to-consumer (D2C) eCommerce brands can implement around order returns and refunds. Plus, we’ll share information on how your brand could benefit by outsourcing order fulfillment and eCommerce returns to an expert like Print Bind Ship. Ready to get started?

How eCommerce Returns Work

When a customer decides to return an item purchased online, they typically start by informing the eCommerce store of their intent to return through email or the store’s return portal. Oftentimes, merchants will send the customer a return shipping label via email or include it with the original packaging. This makes it easy for customers to return packages to the store or designated return center.

Once the customer drops off the sealed return package with the shipping carrier, retailers should get notified of the incoming delivery. On receiving and validating the returned order, merchants issue refunds per the method originally used for payment. Timeframes for refund disbursement usually range between 1-2 billing cycles after the successful return.

Some eCommerce merchants also provide instant refunds or store credit once the customer shows proof of return shipment. For utmost efficiency, it’s best that the entire returns process is facilitated by return management software, which can ensure automation, tracking and visibility. It allows retailers to set rules around refund timelines, reimbursements and restocking to suit their business needs while maintaining a positive post-purchase experience.

Understand Your eCommerce Return Rate

Understanding your return rate on a product-specific basis is key to understanding your products, customers, and whether you’re business model is working. It can also help with sales forecasting, optimizing the product lifecycle, and returns management.

Your return rate is the percentage of orders that get returned out of total sales within a certain timeframe. You can calculate your return rate, by dividing the number of returns by the total sales. As a benchmark, the average return rate in online retail hovers between 20% to 30%. However, return rates can vary widely depending on the product category.

You should also be able to gain insight into your eCommerce return rate through your inventory management software or through your order fulfillment partner. Print Bind Ship, for example, provides eCommerce businesses with key analytics to help them understand exactly what’s going on with their inventory and identify underlying consumer trends.

Once you know your eCommerce return rate, you can focus on creating effective return policies and processes. For starters, analyzing return rates enables brands to gauge if their policies are too strict or too relaxed compared to industry norms. Tracking this metric periodically also highlights seasonal spikes – for example returns tend to rise after holiday seasons due to gift purchases.

If return rates exceed expectations, eCommerce managers can dig deeper to identify problem areas and amenable solutions. These may range from improving product quality checks to enhancing images and descriptions on the storefront. Keeping an eye on return rates is step one to curbing unwanted chargebacks.

8 eCommerce Returns Best Practices

Though there are simple ways to make your returns as easy for customers as possible there are a few best practices to keep in mind when dealing with returns.

1. Maintain Clear Return Policies

Clearly communicate your return policies on your website. Make sure customers understand the conditions for returns, including timeframes, eligible items, and any associated fees. Transparency builds trust and helps manage customer expectations.

2. Customer-Friendly Return Process

Customer service is one of the most important factors influencing your brand, and eCommerce returns are one of the main areas where you have a chance to show customers how much your brand cares about giving them a quality experience.

Prioritize streamlining the return process for customers. Provide easy-to-follow instructions and a user-friendly interface on your website for initiating returns. Minimize the number of steps required and ensure that customers can easily find the information they need.

3. Automated Return Authorization

Implement automated systems for return authorization when possible. This can speed up the process and reduce the need for manual intervention. They can also help ensure consistency in applying return policies.

4. Prepaid Return Shipping Labels

Incorporate prepaid return shipping labels whenever feasible. This not only simplifies the return process for customers but also demonstrates a commitment to customer service. Consider offering a variety of return shipping options to cater to different customer preferences.

5. Efficient Return Processing:

Streamline the processing of returned items on your end. Implement efficient workflows to inspect, restock, or process returned items promptly. Quick turnaround times contribute to customer satisfaction and can impact future purchasing decisions.

6. Clear Communication Throughout the Process

Keep customers informed at every step of the return process. Send automated emails or notifications confirming the initiation of the return, when the item is received, and when the refund or exchange is processed. Clear communication reduces uncertainty and improves the overall customer experience.

7. Data Analysis for Continuous Improvement

Analyze return data to identify patterns and root causes. Understanding the reasons for returns can help you address issues at their source, whether it’s product quality, sizing concerns, or other factors. Use this information to make informed decisions that can reduce future returns.

8. Partner with Print Bind Ship for Seamless eCommerce Returns

Returns have many moving parts, so partnering with a 3PL like Print Bind Ship can help make your process seamless. Print Bind Ship is one of the leading order fulfillment providers in North America, and an ideal partner when it comes to managing your product lifecycle. With Print Bind Ship, we take care of all aspects of inventory warehousing, logistics, picking, packaging, and shipping your products to customers. We also fully manage the eCommerce returns process – providing you with real-time data analytics you can use to understand your customers better.

Print Bind Ship for Customer Returns and Inventory Management

When dealing with inventory management and eCommerce returns – there are a host of moving parts to consider. You may be able to manage the process now, but you’ll find it’s much more effective to work with an order fulfillment expert that allows your business to scale.

Print Bind Ship is the ideal partner for order fulfillment and eCommerce returns. We go beyond the standardized approach to ensure each of our solutions are personalized to every client’s needs. No two online retailers are the same, and solutions vary depending on your customer preferences, market, and product lifecycle. In short, we work with you to ensure order processes are as efficient and optimized as possible.

Plus, we also offer solutions for in-house printing books and custom merchandise. We can help you launch a print-on-demand brand and even target customers with direct mail campaigns that leave a stronger impression over email marketing.

Ready to learn about our customized solutions? Get in touch with the experts at Print Bind Ship for a free consultation for your project here!


What is a reasonable timeframe to allow returns?

Most online retailers allow 30 days from the delivery date for returns and exchanges. Allowing at least 30 days provides adequate flexibility for the customer to receive, inspect and try the item while being reasonable for the merchant to restock seasonal inventory.

Who pays for return shipping – merchant or customer?

Offering free return shipping is now considered table stakes for ecommerce merchants to ease buyer fears around potential return costs. Research shows 73% of shoppers check the returns policy before purchasing: free returns can drive more conversions.

When should refunds be issued – upon return delivery or later?

To exceed expectations and build trust, leading ecommerce brands issue refunds either immediately or within 3-5 business days once the returned item shows tracking confirmation of transit back to the merchant. Instant refunds require more process automation.

How do you respond to a customer who wants to return a product?

It’s a good practice to start by providing a prepaid shipping label to send the item back for a hassle-free refund within 5-7 business days of receiving your return.

How can merchants reduce fraud in the returns process?

Best practices like unique QR codes on packaging, customer-submitted images showing defects, and seals on returned products can help merchants inspect evidence to reduce fraudulent returns not caused by seller errors. Analyzing trends also helps strengthen policies.