Speeding perfectly packaged deliveries to eagerly awaiting customers is one of our favorite things to talk about – but that’s only half of the story. When it comes to e-commerce, outbound orders only “stick” about 15-20 percent of the time depending on product type. The rest of these orders are returned, perhaps because the customer has changed their mind, the item doesn’t fit, or maybe it just doesn’t look or feel as they imagined it.
Whatever the reason, with the number of e-com orders continuing to increase relative to physical shopping experiences, the way a brand chooses to handle its returns can be the difference between success and failure.
One increasingly common option? Many brands are opting for value-added restoration services, designed to mask signs that a previous customer has handled a product and increase the likelihood that the current customer will be highly satisfied with their order.
What is Product Restoration?
Any logistics company worth considering has an eye to the entire product life cycle and a well-honed process for returns that includes spiffing up returned items. Think about it: no customer wants to receive something that looks like it’s been tried on (perhaps even lightly worn!). But with the right approach, a great fulfillment partner can jump into action and get that returned product looking factory fresh again.
This process of bringing both an item and its packaging back to first quality condition is called product restoration. It doesn’t mean we’re repairing holes in a pair of ripped jeans or replacing scuffed soles on a worn shoe; it (usually) means we’re freshening up undamaged product and making it look like new – something that’s necessary for about half of all returns we see in our warehouses.
In the case of some returns, all that’s needed is a nice, light touch to re-create a perfect outbound order – a bit of steaming or a quick refolding, perhaps. In other cases, restoration is mission critical and can involve some heavy-duty cleaning and repacking. We’ve seen some doozies here at Quiet: items returned along with dirty underwear, pants sent back with money clips containing hundreds of dollars in the pocket – and even worse.
That said, restoration services range from the very basic to specialty, and may include:
- Dry cleaning
- Attaching marketing collateral
- Removing small stains
The ultimate goal of all these services is to ensure that when an order arrives in a customer’s home, he or she never even considers that someone else has previously ordered and returned the same item.
“As a brand, you want all your customers to have the same experience across the board.” —Matthew Papini, Quiet Logistics
Case in Point: The Bonobos Dress Shirt
Take an example that’s near and dear to our hearts. Bonobos, the menswear e-tailer we’ve been partnered with for years, is well known for its spiffy dress shirts (a wardrobe staple around the Quiet offices). These shirts are so popular and frequently ordered that Bonobos has created special methods to keep them looking perfectly neat along their journey to the customer’s doorstep, from utilizing dress pins and cardboard backs to adding paper bowties and inserting collar stays. In all, each shirt comes with about 11 or 12 extra pieces attached.
All this makes for an impressive presentation when a customer first opens the box; but what about after he tries on a few shirts, decides to keep one, and sends the others back? The returns are, understandably, in less than impeccable shape when they arrive at the Quiet warehouse. If they aren’t perfectly re-packaged to look like new, the difference is obvious, and there are likely to be future customer complaints and high secondary return rates.
But that’s where our restoration specialists shine. In the case of Bonobos, our trained team immediately gets to work on restoring these shirts to look exactly like they do when we first receive them from the factory, right down to the very last dress pin.
The result? An efficient, cost-effective restoration so perfect that customers who receive these shirts can’t tell the difference between first and second quality. Says Matthew Papini, the Quiet Logistics account manager who directly services the Bonobos account, “Initial impressions are extremely important when a customer is opening the product. Especially when a customer is paying a lot of money for a premium dress shirt, we want everyone to have the same experience trying on these products.”
Customizing Your Restoration Plan
Of course, a case like the above is rather extreme. Not all items require this level of intense restoration – especially in fashion, where items can vary from a $1,000 dress to a $10 tee-shirt, with varying customer expectations to match – and each step in the process does come with a price. But, says Papini, “No matter what clients ask us to do, we find a way to say yes. There’s nothing outside the realm of possibility. We’re always able to deliver.”
To this end, a few salient points to consider:
1) Collaborate on Guidelines
It’s critical for a brand to work closely with its logistics partner to establish ideal restoration guidelines that are appropriate to its specific products. Typically, Quiet will start by meeting with a brand’s operations team to determine what they consider a “resellable” product, discuss brand and customer expectations for condition of that product, and assess the feasibility of executing an effective restoration plan. Quiet’s account manager then works internally to train warehouse staff and – in some cases – dedicated restoration specialists, ensuring that everyone is on the same page when it comes to what services are required, in what circumstances they should be carried out, and how best to achieve first quality condition.
2) Set a Restoration Cut-Off Point
It’s important to think ahead, formulating a game plan for seasonal and sale-specific returns, as well as how to handle product that is past its expiration date. For example, many brands see a spike in returns after peak season, holiday and big sales. Some of these returns can be easily restored, while older sale merchandise may not be worth it: the more an item’s been sent back, the more likely it becomes to see future returns. The life cycle of a product from a liquidation sale is, therefore, quite different from that of a new season style.
3) Factor Returns Into Outbound Packaging
Last but not least, it’s helpful for a brand to work closely with a logistics partner to assess how a product’s overall life cycle can help streamline the returns and restoration process later on down the line. For instance, including a space for customers to select “reason for return” on a packing slip can simplify things for a returns processor. Papini says that Bonobos has recently incorporated a return reason on its packing slips, something that’s “definitely helped as the associates use this to pinpoint any damage to the product and determine whether restoration is needed.” Quiet Logistics has also integrated this into its Bonobos returns software as a drop-down menu.
With more and more clients opting to add value with restoration services, it’s time to discuss with your ops team as well as your logistics partner, if you haven’t yet.
Click here to contact a Quiet Logistics team member…