Returns are an inevitability that modern retailers must contend with—especially those selling online. At least 30% of all online orders are returned, which is why all retailers benefit from streamlined ecommerce returns management and tracking software. Return labels are just one aspect of the returns management process, but it’s a critical one to get right.
Here’s everything you need to know about making, printing, and sending return labels for both established businesses and retailers just starting out.
A return shipping label is a pre-addressed shipping document — generally, but not always, prepaid by the retailer — that features a shipping barcode and allows customers to conveniently send back their product returns. Return shipping labels can be generated preemptively or after customers request returns, and can be delivered to customers in their original package, via email, or through an online portal.
A prepaid return shipping label contains all of the information the customer needs to ship the items back to the correct warehouse without needing to fill out or pay for anything. This, in turn, saves customers the hassle of navigating return shipping on their own and creates a more positive brand experience.
Your business benefits, as well. First, providing return shipping labels — whether prepaid or not — prevents address mistakes. When customers self-address return packages, the chance for errors exists. This can be eliminated by pre-printing the correct information on the return shipping label on customers’ behalf.
In addition, offering customers prepaid return shipping labels gives you more control over everything from internal package routing to postage costs. Not only can you select the most affordable return shipping option, you can also include critical information on either the return shipping label or return slip that’ll ensure the items can be restocked and resold quickly once they’re returned. In this way, you’re able to cut costs, recapture more revenue, and increase the profitability of your operations.
The overall process of making return shipping labels is essentially the same for all companies, though the specific steps you’ll take may vary, depending on the size of your business.
If you’re a small-scale entrepreneur, you may not have access to the kinds of pay-on-use return labels that are often used by larger companies. Instead, when a customer requests a return, you might use a service like USPS.com or the returns process built into your ecommerce shopping cart platform to send a return shipping label to your customer.
Depending on the system you use, you may need to choose your preferred mail class, enter the address to which you want the items returned, pay for the cost of postage, and manually send the newly generated label to your customer (some ecommerce platforms will send them digitally via email).
As your business grows, your needs may be a bit more extensive. For instance, you may want to generate and print return shipping labels in batches, as needed. Generally speaking, you’ll follow the same steps as a smaller entrepreneur would, as described above. The difference here is volume. As your business grows, you’ll look for tools to scale and automate manual processes.
If you’re running a large ecommerce organization that generates and prints shipping labels at scale, one big difference is that you may be able to negotiate rates directly with carriers.
At this level, more sophisticated return service offerings are available that can help you automate the returns management process. For instance, with the right return solution, you can send customers through an automated return flow that determines whether or not their order is eligible for a return. If it is, a return shipping label can be dynamically generated that automatically routes returned items to the most efficient location.
As an example, Narvar’s post-purchase returns management platform lets you create customized return flows and policies to quickly determine return eligibility and painlessly accept returns that meet the right criteria—freeing up customer support teams and call centers in the process.
Again, let’s break the process down based on business size.
If you want to include a return shipping label in the box with a customer’s initial order, you’ll need to print and include it when you package their goods for shipment. Many small businesses use DYMO label makers for this purpose, though standard printing can work just as well.
As you grow, you’ll want to send return labels to customers digitally upon request, instead of in the outbound box, so that the consumer can print it at home. The benefits?
While you can easily include a return slip or return instructions at no added cost, waiting to generate return shipping labels until necessary ensures you don’t waste money on unused return labels.
When you’re operating on a large scale, an automated return portal is usually the way to go. As noted above, such a system provides you with a framework for handling a high volume of returns through customer-facing portals and a single, convenient, internal interface.
Narvar, for example, can enable return label generation for just about any carrier you use, including automatically generating a FedEx, UPS, or USPS return label for your customer to print at home.
What may come as a surprise to some is that consumers no longer have to print a return shipping label in order to return an item by mail. In fact, customers often don’t even need a box anymore. During the pandemic, adoption of boxless and printerless returns increased dramatically. In fact, in Narvar’s 2020 State of Returns report, 27% of consumers used a QR code on their mobile phone to drop off their return at a carrier or return location.
Ultimately, it’s your choice how you decide to send return shipping labels to your customers. You can simply stick them in the box, though this isn’t ideal in all situations.
If your ecommerce platform is more advanced, you may decide to support customer return requests through an account or branded returns portal. From there, customers will have a few different options for sending their items back, including:
Return shipping can be an expensive line item in a retailer’s budget. While one-size-fits-all, free return shipping can sometimes feel like the norm, it’s far from it. In fact, of nearly 200 retailers Narvar studied, only Fortune 50 retailers cover return shipping costs across the board. On the other hand, 45% of omnichannel retailers and 22% of direct-to-consumer (D2C) retailers charge for return shipping.
If you do choose to charge for return shipping, how much should you charge? 86% of flat-rate shipping charges are less than $10. Two exceptions to this trend, who often charge more than $10, are housewares and specialty categories.
The solution that’s right for your business may evolve over time as your organization grows and changes. If you aren’t satisfied that your current return solution is meeting the needs of your company or its customers, it may be time for a new option. Schedule a free demo with a Narvar Return specialist today to explore new options for supporting your returns management processes.