Q and A: Handling Holiday Returns, the Road Runner Sports Way
According to the National Retail Federation, more than 147 million consumers hit the stores on Black Friday weekend, a 4.8 percent growth from last year. And online shoppers spent a record $733 million in a single day on the following Cyber Monday, according to comScore Inc., an Internet market research firm.
While this is great news for e-tailers, one thing is inevitable: With holiday sales go holiday exchanges and returns. And with a robust shopping season in full blast, it's possible that a robust returns season will follow.
So what are the best ways to handle these returns, especially when most shoppers believe a convenient return policy is tantamount to good customer service? In short, e-tailers must provide a hassle-free shopping experience from start to finish.
eM+C asked Jennifer Melzer, the director of customer care and operations at San Diego-based Road Runner Sports how her company handles returns.
eM+C: Tell us about your online operations. How much of your sales is done through your Web site? What are the main types of merchandise being purchased?
Jennifer Melzer: Road Runner Sports started in 1983 as a direct marketing company selling running shoes through the mail. Today, customers can shop via our Web site, our phone center and/or our retail stores. Approximately 40 percent of our sales come from the Web, and the majority of the sales are shoes used for running and walking.
eM+C: How many online returns do you estimate getting during the holidays? Do you estimate having more or less this year versus last?
JM: For the direct side of our business, our returns rate is very good and, in fact, has gradually improved year over year. We are running approximately 12 percent in returns year-to-date for the direct side of our business, which is outstanding when you consider we are selling mostly shoes via a Web site or over the phone. Our retail stores have the advantage of letting a customer try the shoes on in the store, so the returns rate at retail is low.
eM+C: How do you handle the returns process?
JM: On the direct side, all invoices include a SmartLabel return coupon. (from Austin, Texas-based returns-management firm Newgistics). The customer peels the label and adheres this sticker to the outside of their return and drops it with U.S. Mail. When their return arrives at RRS, we simply deduct the fee for the SmartLabel from their total return credit. We process most returns within seven to 10 business days (from the time the customer drops it in the mail). We receive advance notifications from Newgistics to know how many returns we can expect to hit our dock so that we can staff appropriately. Additionally, we do keep customers notified via e-mail on the status of their return.
eM+C: Can you offer any tips for a hassle-free returns process during the holiday season?
JM: Returns need to be easy. They need to be easy to understand, convenient and hassle-free.