Return of the Policies
Guest contributor: Jesse Langley
Creating a rock-solid merchandise return policy--and following it meticulously--is crucial to strengthening your brand. As important as a strong, customer-friendly return policy is for brick and mortar retailers (do the names Nordstrom and Costco ring any bells?), a liberal return program is critical for e-commerce sellers. Choosing the best fulfillment services, matched with a strong return policy, can advance your brand.
Designing a customer-first return policy with brand enhancement as your first goal is wise, and developing a strong brand helps your company through good and poor economies. Consider some simple tips to create a winning return policy that enhances your brand.
Stand behind your product; no sale is final.
Even if your purchaser simply doesn’t like the product, don’t make it difficult to return the product; you can strengthen your brand and earn credibility. Taking a small revenue “hit” may create a loyal customer of the near future.
Minimize returns by accurately describing and picturing your products online
Like health care issues, prevention is more effective than a cure. Design detailed and understandable descriptions of your products. Use high quality pictures on your website to provide an accurate visual image of all items for sale. The fewer color variations that can occur with different browsers or “grainy” pictures or videos of products, the more complete your customer's image of the item. This can minimize those “this isn't the item I ordered,” returns.
Employ simple English, not legalese, in your return policy
Don’t let your legal adviser bully you into hiding your return policy or stating it in terms that only other attorneys can understand. Use your return policy as a branding/marketing tool by making it visible and clear; your customers will appreciate your honesty and clarity. Shrouding your return policy in legalese may, by itself, encourage customers to buy from your competition.
Eliminate hidden return junk fees
Restocking fees, shipping return charges and other fees can quickly alienate your customer base. If possible, eliminate direct out-of-pocket customer costs to return a defective or undesired product. Should you decide to have customers pay the cost of return shipping, let your buyers know up front. It’s better to lose a sale because of this than annoying soon-to-be former customers by hiding this cost from them.
Clearly state policies for exchange, store credit and/or cash for returns
Once again, clarity rules. Notify your customers about their return options. If you offer all three major choices (exchange, credit or cash), proudly tell your customers. And if you only offer one or two options, tell them just as loudly. Avoiding unwelcome surprises for your customers always enhances your brand.
Your return policy is much more important than a necessary evil: A strong policy can be a winning marketing and branding tool to help your company stand out from the competition. Use it wisely to enhance your brand, credibility and perception as a trusted source of quality products and customer service.
Driver shortages: Why the industry needs to be worried
While driver shortages are a global problem, with a recent survey from the International Road Transport Union suggesting that driver shortages are expected to increase by 25% year-on-year across its 23 member countries, the issue has very much made itself felt for UK businesses in recent weeks.
A perfect storm of factors, which many within the industry have been wary of, and warning about, for months, have led to a situation wherein businesses are suddenly facing significant difficulties around transporting goods to shelves on time, as well as inflated operating costs for doing so.
What’s more, the public may also see price rises as a result due to demand outmatching supply for certain product lines, which in turn brings with it the risk of customer dissatisfaction and a hit to brand and stakeholder reputation. Given that this price inflation has been speculated to hit in October, when the extended grace period on Brexit customs checks comes to an end, the worst may be yet to come.
"Steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole"
That said, we have already been hearing reports of service interruption due to lack of driver availability, meaning that volumes aren’t being transported, or delivered, to required schedules and lead times. A real-world example of this occurred on the weekend of 4-6 June with convenience retailer Nisa, with deliveries to Nisa outlets across the UK affected by driver shortages to its logistics provider DHL.
But where has this skills shortage stemmed from?
Supply is the primary issue. Specifically, the number of available EU drivers has decreased by up to 15,000 drivers due to Brexit alone, and this has been further exacerbated by drivers returning to their home country during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as changes to foreign exchange rates making UK a less desirable place to live and work. This, alongside the recent need to manage IR35 tax changes, has also led to significant inflation in driver and transport costs.
COVID-19 complications have also meant that there have been no HGV driver tests over the past year, meaning the expected 6,000-7,000 new drivers over the past year have not appeared. With the return of the hospitality sector we understand that this is a significant challenge with, for instance, order delivery lead times being extended.
It is little surprise, therefore, that the Road Haulage Association (RHA) earlier this month became the latest in a long line of industry spokespeople to write to the government about the driver shortage for trucks. The letter echoed the view held by much of the industry, that the cause of this issue is both multi-faceted and, at least in some aspects, long-standing.
So, many in the industry are in agreement as to the driving factors behind this crisis. But what can be done?
Simply enough, outside of businesses completely reorganising their supply chain network, external support is needed. In the short-term, the government should consider providing the industry with financial aid, and this can also be supported more widely with legislative change.
Specifically, immigration policy could be updated to place drivers on the shortage occupations list, which would go some way towards easing the burden created by foreign drivers returning to their home countries. Looking elsewhere, government should also look for ways to increase the availability of HGV driver tests after the blockage created by the coronavirus lockdowns.
Looking more long-term, steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole. As it stands, multiple sources suggest that the average age of truck drivers in the UK is 48, with only one in every hundred drivers under the age of 25. We must therefore do more to increase the talent pipeline coming into the industry if we are to offset more significant skills shortages further down the line.
On the back of a turbulent year for the supply chain industry, it has become increasingly clear that the long-foretold shortage of drivers is now having a tangible and, in places, crippling effect on supply chains.
Drivers, and the wider supply chain industry, have rightly been recognised for the seismic role they played in keeping the nation moving and fed over the past year under unprecedented strain. If this level of service is to continue, we must now see Government answer calls to provide the support the sector needs, and work hand-in-hand with the industry to find a solution. If we do not see concrete action to this effect soon, we are likely to be in for a turbulent few months.
Rob Wright is executive director at SCALA, a leading provider of management services for the supply chain and logistics sector