How To Handle Dropship Product Returns For Your Ecommerce Webstore

5 Quick Tips…

  1. Learn the dropship return process before you have an issue and so you can offer a quick solution
  2. Have a strong relationship with your wholesale supplier, and work with your dropship partner to resolve your issue
  3. You can find small ways to help show the customer you care about their issue.
  4. Make sure your product return policy matches your dropship wholesaler’s policy
  5. Low dollar items might not always need to be returned

When running a business there will be a time when you come across errors.  When running a dropship ecommerce business from a website or marketplace like eBay and Amazon,  it is important to be prepared for when even the best supplier makes the occasional mistake.  So what happens when you eventually run across these issues and how should you react?

Offer A Solution And Be Familiar With Your Dropship Distributor’s Return Process Before You Have Issues
Your best course of action when dealing with shipping errors on your dropship orders is to take responsibility for the mistake and offer a solution.  It is important not to default to just blaming the dropship supplier.  After all, your customer doesn’t need to know if you stock direct or dropship through a distributor program.  Mentioning the distributor will only lead to confusion, as most customers do not even know anything about the dropship supplier distribution model.

Just apologize and let the customer know how you are going to fix their problem.  Its easy to understand if there is an issue “at the warehouse” or some mix up in shipping, so just focus on the solution and you will be fine.  The easiest way to offer a quick solution or to help resolve the issue with your customer, is to be familiar with the return process and option before you have your first issue.  It might never happen, but if it does, already being familiar with the supplier return process will make you appear more knowledgeable from the start when communicating with your customer about their order.

Your Dropship Supplier Is Your Partner
Remember that when you do update the supplier to the issue you remember its still a vital relationship.  You don’t need to yell or be rude with your sales representative at the distributor or send angry emails demanding to know what went wrong.  Its still an important relationship to nurture and once the issue is resolved, its a relationship where you are depending on them to help service your customers.

When you have issues, that is the time to strengthen your relationship.  The supplier is a partner in your customer service process and in your ability to present a quick solution.  This is not the time to burn bridges.  The issue could be from how they processed the order, an issue from the shipping company, or even an issue in how you entered the order.  Whatever the cause, it will be more effective to just alert them to the issue and find the quickest way to have it resolved for your customer.

They will make sure it is a top priority to resolve it for you as their reseller without any added urgency needed, and an angry tone with the dropship representative who is there to try to resolve your issue, is not going to make the correct item appear in your customer’s hand any quicker.  Just stay focused on the solution and on getting the details you need to get the issue closed for your customer.

Even Small Efforts Go A Long Way
It is important for you to maintain a good level of customer service with the buyer.  Therefore, depending on the severity of the mistake, you should offer the customer something as a way to make up for the error.  This could be something as simple as refunding the shipping fee to an upgrade in the shipping service and delivery time, if the customer needs a new item to be sent.  Also, while you need to show the customer that you are focused on resolving the immediate issue, you might also help show that you care and still get more repeat business by offering a coupon code on their next order.  Even if the email started out with an issue on an order, there is nothing wrong with giving the customer a reason to try you again with a future order once you show that you can be trusted to deliver.

While even the best dropship suppliers will sometimes make mistakes, you should always take note of any supplier who continues to regularly have issues. Continuing to use these suppliers likely will result in hurting your business’s reputation.

Learn The Dropship Return Process And Have A Return Policy To Match
When creating your Return Policy, it is important for you to be familiar with how your suppliers deals with returns.  You should find out whether they have a more relaxed 30-45 day return window or if it is more strict and then proceed to create your policy accordingly.  We recommend taking their policy and being slightly more conservative to give you a little extra wiggle room in dealing with your own customer returns, so if your supplier has a 30 day window for returns, there is nothing wrong in using a 20 or 25 day period for your own policies.

Also, don’t just say “you can return your items for ANY reason” in your policy because your supplier states this or because you think it sounds like a great policy.  You are free to allow returns for any reason, just make sure that your supplier is liberal in their returns policy as well.  Also, just because your supplier allows flexible return options, does not mean you need to match this policy.  You might state that all sales are final or they are final except when the wrong item is shipped or defective.

When dealing with a customer who needs to return an item they have purchased, the process will likely go as follows:
1. A customer contacts you to request a return
2. You will then request an RMA (Returned Merchandize Authorization) number from the dropship supplier
3. If the return is approved by the dropship distributor, the customer mails back the merchandise to the supplier, noting the RMA number on the address (If it is a very specialized item or expensive item you could even have them ship it to you directly so you have more control over the process and then you can send it to the supplier directly.)
4. The supplier refunds your account for the wholesale price of the merchandise (or they ship out the corrected item)
5. Lastly, You refund the customer for the full price of the merchandise (or let them know when the new item is on its way)

However, there a few problems that can complicate things to where they don’t always go as smoothly as the steps above, such as a restocking fee or issues in dealing with defective item returns.

Some suppliers will have a restocking fee for having to return an item.  You might opt to leave this fee out of your own policy to have a more streamlined and customer service oriented policy for your own dropship website.  While a fee may cost you some now, you likely will make up that lost money by keeping customers business going forward.

Also, when getting started, become familiar with your wholesale dropship suppliers policy for defective items.  Do they accept returns?  Do they want you to have it shipped to the manufacture and/or deal with them directly or have your customer deal with them directly to complete the process?

Dropship Returns Might Not Always Be Needed
Another way of handling the issue with returns may be to not have your customer return the item at all…at least when dealing with a low cost item.  Lets say your customer ordered an iPhone 5 Cable, but for some reason the iPhone 4 cable was shipped.  It might not be worth paying $8 to have an item shipped back which only cost $10 from the supplier.  You can see if your supplier might be willing to confirm the wrong item was shipped and have the corrected one reset without the return (they might not want to deal with the return process either).  If you perhaps just ordered the wrong SKU when posting the order at the supplier, you might find its just easier to have the new item shipped without the return process.

Also, not all returns are from your error or a supplier mistake.  If you allow returns for any reason, sometimes your customer is the one who ships the wrong item.  They might not have realized the iPhone 4 and 5 cables are different until the package arrived.  If you do not state that all sales are final except for when the wrong item is shipped, then they would be allowed to ship back the item.

It might be easier to just have the new cable shipped and tell them not to worry about having the other item shipped back.  While you might lose a few dollars on the mistake, it might not be worth your time to deal with the full return process, and its great customer service to offer to simply send out the new item without returning the first accessory and you will be much more likely to turn a problem order into a repeat customer because of how you handled the issue.

The important thing to note when dealing with dropship product returns is that mistakes can happen and do happen.  Even the biggest ecommerce websites like Zappos or Best Buy have issues with orders and returns.  The return process is nothing to fear if you take some time early to understand the process, have a return policy which matches your approved return options at your dropship product source, and make sure they you look for ways to show the customer that you care about their issue and are working to resolve it through every reasonable option you can present.

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