Friday, April 8, 2011

How Are Returns Handled at an Order Fulfillment Warehouse?

A frequent question we receive when talking to prospective order fulfillment online retail clients is in regards to the returns process. How does it work - Can you handle returns - Can you inspect the product - How do you report the returns - Etc?
In most cases, the answer is that a typical fulfillment service can handle returns however you, as a customer need them to. For our clients, the returns process most often will include the following steps:
- the returned product is delivered back to our fulfillment warehouse
- it is checked in and referenced by its original sales order
- the order and product information is recorded and emailed back to the online retailer
- based on the customer's direction, the product is inspected and returned to inventory to be sent out again
- or, for some clients all returns are set aside and the client periodically comes on site to inspect the items
- or, some clients have all items (most often food fulfillment products) disposed of, or returned to the manufacturer 
The returns process of course starts with the communication to the customer on how to go about returning the products they need to. This is often done with step by step instructions that may be listed on the packing list, or the website. A returns label may accompany the orders as well. FedEx and UPS offer simply ways to have a pre-paid shipping label sent with the order to facilitate the return.
When it comes to inspecting the returns, setting up specific guidelines regarding what to look for is key. Many products are commonly returned into inventory but many require a much closer examination. Setting clear expectations and procedures at the outset is very important to make sure the process runs smoothly.
The cost for managing returns is really dictated by the requirements so there is no "list" price for returns in most cases. Once the fulfillment center has a track record of the types of returns and the amount of work that goes in to inspecting the returns they can often put together a "per return" cost. Prior to that, most fulfillment centers will charge based on their warehouse hourly rate.