Does Your Packaging Have the Strong Return Game it Needs?

By Nancy Matchey | Vice President, Packaging Optimization | Chainaltyics | As consumer habits continue to change and the percentage of shoppers engaging in ecommerce...


By Nancy Matchey | Vice President, Packaging Optimization | Chainaltyics |


As consumer habits continue to change and the percentage of shoppers engaging in ecommerce and omnichannel markets steadily rises, shippers and retailers alike are reevaluating their return policies and processes to meet customer expectations. More so than ever, returns have become a much larger variable in the operational equation.

It should be no surprise that as online sales grow, the number of online returns has also increased. Savvy consumers look to a company’s online return policies and procedures as a significant component of customer loyalty as well as general shopping behavior. As a result, companies are looking to differentiate customer experience with generous return policies. Although the return policies can be very liberal and apparently accommodating, all sellers would ultimately prefer the consumer keep the items originally purchased. This means each company hopes to strike a very delicate balance between making returns physically easy while passively discouraging returns.  

As a result, organizations must get creative with their return strategies to retain customers. These strategies may include free return shipping, hassle free methods, brick and mortar incentives, or even “bracketing,” a strategy recently employed by Amazon that allows consumers to place a large order of clothing, try it on at home, and only pay for what they keep.

While the return policy may be simple, oftentimes the packaging design or material utilized is less than ideal for the consumer to repack and return. It is fairly common for clothing and other items to arrive shrink wrapped or bagged; often, the bag doesn’t have a viable resealing feature. Although bag style packaging may seem easy to solve, more fragile, or big & bulky products, have a larger challenge to accommodate safe returns.

Smart packaging solutions for ecommerce should be communicated and easy for the consumer to open with minimal waste. However, if the product is damaged or unwanted for whatever reason, the entire returns process (re-packaging, labeling and shipping) needs to be well defined and communicated clearly to minimize any additional damage on the return shipment; remembering of course that consumers have various levels of education and English language proficiency.   

With consumer goods now experiencing additional touchpoints and hazards across their shipping journey previously unaccounted for, brand owners need to adopt packaging that protects the product throughout these new supply chain pathways. Packaging designers and engineers need to think more thoroughly about the supply chains that utilize their Packaging Systems for their e-commerce channels. The bar has been raised for the responsibility of packaging and the product protection it delivers: customer delight or disappointment and a return shipment.

While e-commerce products and supply chains differ from company to company, all organizations allowing omni-channel returns should have a packaging strategy and packaging guidelines in place to make sure damage is minimized during the delivery and the return journey.  

Nancy Matchey is the Vice President of Chainalytics’ Packaging Optimization practice, which delivers professional consulting services providing global solutions to complex packaging challenges across the supply chain.

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