How to Manage Product Returns

Product returns are an inevitable part of the online sales. For both the customer and the seller, they are somewhat of a nuisance – no customer wants to go through the hassle of returning a product they have bought, and no seller would be too keen on receiving an item they have dispatched. But, we cannot completely eliminate returns, however hard we try. Should a seller provide the return policy to the customers? if so, how to strategize them so that as a seller you can make most out of it? These questions should seriously be considered by every online business owner, and steps should be taken to incorporate them into the overall strategic operations.

Product returns come under the class of what is known as reverse logistics. Reverse logistics is when the flow of product is opposite to the direction of motion of the supply chain. Although it seems unlikely, prompt returns management can be quite effective in the overall profitability of the business. Offering returns in itself is a major sign of trustworthiness for a seller. After all, a customer is risking their time and money by paying you upfront. It is only fair that you provide a service with which their grievances are effectively handled. Now, let us look at ways with which life with returns can be easier to both you and your customers.

Managing Product Returns

  1. Analyze Your Returns

Do an in-depth analysis of all your returns. What products are returned the most? Is there a particular region where the percentage of returns is higher than others? What about the role of shipping agents and courier companies? Basically, you need to reach the root cause of the returns. Returns can be of two kinds – controllable and uncontrollable. Controllable returns are those whose root cause can generally be attributed to factors that can be controlled by the seller. Uncontrollable returns are the inevitable product returns that cannot be helped.

  1. Diminish the Controllable Returns

There are a lot of factors that contribute to returns. Faulty packaging, lethargic transportation and storage, and general mismanagement, to name a few. Every controllable factor has a cause that can be minimized or eliminated with better forward logistics processes. A simple tip for a much neglected aspect of sales is providing valuable product information in a clear manner to the customer. Many returns take place because the customer, on receiving the product, realizes that it is not what they were looking for in the first place. Bottom line, diminish the controllable returns through rigorous analysis and positive action.

  1. Handling Uncontrollable Returns

Of course, you can try as hard as you can to completely negate the possibility of product returns, but that will rarely happen. So you need to be ready to handle those few returns that do reach your doorstep. Here are a few bits of advice on how to go about it.

  • Make it Easy for Your Customers

Include an easy to use pre-addressed return label with your package, so that the customers don’t have to go through the hassle of relabelling and packaging the product.

  • Acknowledge Returns and Gather Information

When you receive a returned package, let your customers know. Ask them the reason behind returning the product. You can do this by including a questionnaire along with the return label itself, or initiating a conversation via email.

  • Sort Your Returns

Sort your returns into damaged and undamaged items. You can enter the undamaged items back into your inventory. If the item was pre-damaged, you need to return it to the supplier.

  • Make Changes in Your Inventory Manager

A few inventory management software, like Browntape, allow for product returns in their database. The SKU number of that product must enter the inventory now, so that it can be reprocessed for new sales.

  • Provide Service

Last but not the least, attend to your customers’ grievances. Provide them with a replacement product, complying to a pre-decided policy. Customer satisfaction comes first.

This was a short guide on how to manage product returns. For any further queries regarding anything related to the ecommerce market, get in touch with us at Browntape. Our aim is to help you become successful online business owners!

 

How to Manage Your Offline and Online Stores Together.

Although with every passing year, the realization that one can not only survive, but also thrive solely on the basis of an online ecommerce business, is gaining impetus among online business owners, owning and operating a ‘real’, offline store still holds its own value. We have not (yet) entered a virtual age so drastic for offline stores to become obsolete, but at the same time, it has become an absolute prerogative for an offline store owner to have an online presence. So how does one go about merging the physical and virtual world together? The inner workings of the physical store and the virtual store differ drastically, though there are places where they coincide. To attain maximum efficiency out of your outfit, it is necessary that you carefully evaluate this online-offline relationship and lay down processes that bring out the best of both worlds.

Online and offline stores, both have their own place in the commercial market. It is important, as a first step, to recognize the advantages and limitations of both. A physical store is the traditional choice for a business operator. While a physical store gives you the opportunity to be able to actually ‘sell’ a product to your customer, it limits your geographical and demographical range while increasing your display and rental costs. An online store is more impersonal and extremely competitive, but this competition is negated by the fact that your target market size increases many fold, in the online world. Working with both online and offline stores requires a few adjustments to your business practices. Let us look at 3 major issues you can improve on to make your online-offline business a success.

Working Online-Offline Together

1. Synthesize Your Technology

You may have different philosophies for the basic functions of your online and offline stores, but in the end, they serve the same purpose – selling your product. So, even though you might want to segregate the day to day marketing and operational procedures for each, they should both stem from the same root. This root can be an interactive inventory management system like Browntape. In Browntape, you can list and treat your physical store along the same lines as your multiple online stores. All your sales, from all your channels, both offline and online, will reflect in your final tally. The inventory will come from one source for all your channels and the profits will be reflected in one column. Thus, it is better to treat the system like a tree with each channel, offline or online, as its branch. Here are a few ways with which you can integrate your online and offline channels using technology.

 

  • Listing all your stores, offline or online, on Browntape. Browntape recognizes both offline and online stores as channels, and funnels all the transactions from each into one database.

  • Combining mail order delivery for online and offline stores.

  • Issuing a common purchase order for online and offline stores.  

 

2. Bridge the Gap Between Offline and Online

A few years ago, the idea of online sales was in its inertia phase, with people preferring to see the goods they were buying. The situation has turned upside-down now. A typical customer prefers buying from the comfort of his/her home. We prefer to read the reviews of other customers, see the seller rating, discuss the product online and make impartial comparisons while buying a product. If the offline store has to survive in a situation like this, it has to make a few changes in its operation. The business owner can incorporate many of the above-stated features in his/her offline store to make a hybrid shopping experience for the customer. Other ways of bridging the gap are, allowing customers to pick up online orders from your offline store, letting customers scan the product QR code to read online reviews, etc.

3. Offline-Online Marketing

You can combine both your offline and online forums to compliment each other in terms of marketing strategy. By understanding the mechanics of offline and online marketing, you can make the most of your business. If, during the course of your analysis you realize that your online revenue stream is much larger than the offline one during a certain time period, you can employ methods like discounts or free gifts on online purchases and market them through your offline store. Another way is to give out offer codes on the next purchase only to the customers who visited the offline store. An important thing to do is collect the online details like email addresses of your offline customers too, and add them to your customer database. This way, a one-time, primarily offline customer becomes an online asset.

 

These were some tips on effectively managing your online and offline stores. For any queries or more information, get in touch with Browntape. We are leading manufacturers of multi channel inventory management systems, and we understand the Indian ecommerce market. Let’s make your online business a success!

 

6 Most Important Things You Should do While Processing Orders

The life cycle of an online sale can be roughly broken into three parts – pre-order, order processing and post-order. Here, the pre-order phase deals with issues like research, sourcing/purchasing of inventory, SKU coding, pricing, setting up of the online shop, etc. The post-order phase is all about shipment tracking, payment, dealing with returns, etc. While we will deal with each of these phases in separate posts, this one is particularly about the all important order processing stage. Order processing is what you will do once you have received the order through your online portal, till you have successfully shipped it off to your customer. A myriad number of processes are involved between these two stages, each of them as important that the next. First of all, you will need all your orders from different online marketplaces to be consolidated into one single sheet. This can be done in a hassle free manner by using a multi channel inventory management software like Browntape. Once this is done, various other steps like checking inventory, making pick and pack lists, creating manifests, etc. are to be done. We have made a list of the 6 most important ones. Let us look at each of them in detail.

How to Process Orders?

1. Checking Inventory Status

Once your order list is consolidated, you need to check your inventory for the availability of the desired product. This is where the vitality of SKU codes is realized. Is the product in stock? If no, can it be procured in time? If it is available, is it available at multiple locations? In the big picture, the location based availability of the product will be a major factor in the delivery time to the customer. Once the desired product is identified and the stock is deducted, this is when you really start processing the order.

2. Creating a Pick List

Now that the products have been identified as being in stock, comes the time to pick them up for packing. This seems like an easy enough process, but can be a cause for major mistakes. Create a specific ‘pick list’, or a list of items to be picked from the warehouse. The pick list would not depend upon individual orders of customers, but rather, a single list of all the products to be shipped on a particular day. The job of the person to whom the pick list is assigned is to just collect the products in bulk and deposit them to the packing centre.

3. Creating a Pack List

The pack list is a whole different ball game. A single customer may end up buying multiple products which would have to be collected and packed together. A pack list is exclusively based on individual orders, to assist the packing process. Clump the products delivered according to your pack list. Creating two different lists for your picking and packing needs would drastically reduce a margin of error.

4. Handle the Courier Issue

Is the order from an online marketplace or your own website? Does the online marketplace provide a courier service? If it does, print shipping labels and AWBs and notify the marketplace for a scheduled pick up. If the order is to be self-fulfilled, you must have a courier system in place. Are you planning to bear the courier costs or do you expect your customer to do so? Each of these scenarios requires different steps in planning and documentation. Remember that the customer must be notified before the purchase that he/she would have to bear the cost of delivery.

5. Print Shipping Labels and Manifests

Once the nitty-gritties of the courier are taken care of, print and paste shipping labels, AWBs and other documentation, and dispatch your products. A very important step is to create a daily manifest that shows how many orders are in transit and waiting to be fulfilled. This will be your master list till the products have been delivered to your customers. Create individual manifests for the different courier services that you will employ. This will keep your processing dashboard extremely clear and transparent.

6. Notify Your Customers

Many online sellers forget this vital step during order processing. Please send timely notifications to your customers regarding the status of your orders. With an inventory management software like Browntape, this will be done automatically for you. Take care to create systems so that flags will be raised in case of delays in courier transportation. You can even share the courier tracking number with your customers.

This was our brief take on things to do once you receive an online order. For more information or queries about any aspect in online sales and ecommerce, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at Browntape. Happy selling!

Why Email is an Online Seller’s Best Friend

The online selling marketplace is a typical example of an aggressive ecosystem. You have to adapt quickly to all the technological changes around you to survive, and thrive. Although email is a technology that has been around for many many years, it’s applications in terms of online sales are some of the most effective ways to increase your business. For an online seller, email is one of the only few ways to have an actual dialogue with the customer. Of course, there are other, more sophisticated ways of networking, like Facebook and Twitter. But as a recent study shows, email is still an online seller’s best friend as compared to social media. Facebook/Twitter have their own advantages in the world of online sales, which consist of consolidating a mass outreach and creating a trustworthy and accessible online presence. But in terms of hard selling figures, email beats them all. In the last four years, the online retailers have quadrupled the rate of customers acquired through email to nearly 7 percent. Here are 5 reasons why email is the way to go for you as an online seller.

What Email Does for an Online Seller

1. Emails are Private

In fact, they are the one of the only means of online communication that are exclusively built upon the idea of privacy. Let us start with the first step – acquiring an email address. Acquiring an email address of a customer means that they trust you enough to do business with you. This is a very valuable thing for an online seller, much more valuable than a Facebook ‘Like’ or a re-tweet. Now you can employ this email address in various aspects of your strategy, from customer management to marketing. Hence, first rules first – Do not flood an inbox with spam. Nobody likes that. It will only spoil the newly established customer-seller relationship.

2. Emails for Customer Relationships

While Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms are essentially ‘social media’ platforms, email is your own personal mailbox. Many online sellers do not realize this difference between these two tools of marketing. What is the point of sending a stock email privately to a lot of people if it can be sent publicly to reach a wider margin? Instead, you can employ email for another task – survey, feedback and customer relationship establishment. Update your customers with the status of their order. Ask them at the end of the transaction whether everything went according to their convenience. This is what emails are for – private channels that help you build trust. Most good inventory management systems consist of tools that can automatically send emails to your customers regarding the status of their orders.

3. Emails for Marketing

For a seller, marketing strategy objectives can be broken down into four important parts –
1. Get them to the store.
2. Make them buy something.
3. Keep them coming back.
4. Get their friends along
.
Social media platforms are more than adept to handle step 4. But emails work wonders for step 3. This is essentially the extension of the same philosophy that led to the advent of online stores – ‘If you can’t get them to the store, get the store to their home’. Well, ‘if you can’t get them to the site, get the site to their inbox’. Of course, a certain deft touch is required in doing this, rather than plainly mailing an online catalogue. With the power of the internet, we can easily access and identify shopping patterns are search strings employed by our customers. There are tools available in the market that can analyse this data and provide a clear strategic direction. The focus should be on sending relevant emails. That is the key.

4. Emails for Cross Selling

Cross selling is one of the most lucrative techniques for making profits in the sales world. The concept is very easy, and follows the ‘Would you like to buy some ink to go with the pen you just bought?’ strategy. Product pairings and groupings are common factors in cross selling, but understanding the customers’ habits and interests also helps a lot. Because cross sells are so customer specific, emails are the best way to go about with them. The best way is to personalise your mails with sales pitches for the products that you want to cross sell. Remember, emails are just the baits. Selling comes later.

5. Strategizing the Email

All of the above is great, but to use email as an effective tool in your online sales arsenal, you need to be able to use it right. We see many bad sales emails popping up everyday in our inboxes. Common practice is to just delete them without opening. How to get out of this conundrum? The idea is that email is not the happy ending in itself, but just a means to the happy ending. View an email as a start to a conversation. As we discussed above, an email is a private space between you and the customer. Thus, give a precise, brief pitch and invite the customer to reply. Once the contact has been established, things happen much faster.

If you want more automated emails at every step of your customer purchase cycle, get in touch with us at Browntape. Our inventory and order management software also takes care of customer emails, in a step towards making your customers happier. 

5 Signs You Need an Inventory Management System

It is natural to think twice before investing in an inventory management system. Traditional methods of order management have worked for you until now, so why shouldn’t they in the future? As an independent online seller, most of your time and strategic efforts are involved in managing and operating your business and servicing your customers. Why would you want to put extra time and money to invest in another piece of technology you don’t know much about? The answer is that because it makes your life easier. Inventory management systems are specifically designed for online sellers such as yourselves so that they can delegate and automate most of the repetitive and mundane tasks while enjoying an ease of access and efficiency in their operational processes. Read on if you want to be convinced about the importance of inventory management system in your online sales process.

When Should You Go for an Inventory Management System?

1.When You Are Up to Your Neck With Work

An inventory management system gives you the ability to control the complete expanse of your online business through one console. This is especially true if you go for a multi channel inventory management system, through which you can consolidate your business from all your online stores into one portal. The benefits of having everything under one dashboard are immense. This means ease of access, less clutter and more order in your operations. It also means that every change in your inventory, personnel or product catalogue will be recorded and stored, drastically reducing any margin of error. With multiple user access systems, all your employees can be able to access the console and efficiently carry out their responsibilities.

2.When its Getting Difficult to Manage Your Customers

Inventory management systems can also play a big role in helping you manage your customers. With automated email notification services integrated within the software, your customers receive timely emails regarding the status of the product they ordered. This means, every time you change the status of a particular order on your console, for example from ‘Order Received’ to ‘In Transit’, an automated email in sent to your customer. The system also helps you match the right order with the right customer by making all your data easily accessible.

3. When You Are Spending too Much Time on Printing and Packing

Printing, packing and dispatching are some of the most mundane tasks that an online seller has to take care of. But what if there was system that could help you efficiently manage them and reduce mistakes? This is exactly what an inventory management system does. It creates and prints customized, branded invoices and shipping labels, creates barcodes, SKU codes, basically, everything short of actually packaging the product. And who knows, in some time it will be able to do that too! Using an inventory management system in your packaging and dispatching process reduces the operation time by half! What else do you need?

4.When Your Catalogue is Starting to Get Unmanagable

Inventory management systems can help you effectively manage your catalogues and purchasing processes. They allow you to create, classify and edit product information, brand assets, specifications and pricing. At the same time, they let you configure kits, upsells and cross sells. Multi channel inventory management services go a step further and give you the power to edit and maintain catalogues on multiple online stores through a single portal.

5.When You Don’t Know What Your Operational Strategy Should Be

A good inventory management software also consists of a strong analytics suite in its dashboard. It continuously feeds and records important data relating to the sales and purchases of your products online, inventory changes, catalogue changes and profits. It consolidates and processes the data and presents it to you in the form of graphs, charts and other user friendly analytic tools. You can even feed customizable metrics in some software so that the reporting is done on areas you specifically wish for. All this goes a long way in enhancing your business strategy and helping you make informed business decisions.

In conclusion, Inventory Management System is like a little Genie in a bottle for you. It takes care of your front end, back end and everything in between. So where do you look for your very own inventory management system? Get in touch with Browntape to know more about the benefits you can reap with inventory management systems, or sign up for our 30 day free trial. We are the leading multi channel inventory management software developers and vendors in India and we will be glad to help you out in your online business endeavors.

6 Tips to Create a Better Customer Experience Through Online Sales

Online sales posed a new challenge in front of business owners, in terms of how to keep the customers satisfied without even being able to see them. Customers, especially Indian customers who have just warmed up to the idea of online sales a few years ago, feel more comfortable when they can put a face to the selling process. This is how customer relationships were built before the advent of online sales channels. It was the shop owners’ responsibility to make the customer feel at home and gain their trust. This resulted in a priceless word-of-mouth publicity for the shop owner. In the virtual world, you don’t have the capability to directly interact with your customer and actually ‘sell’ a product to them. But that does not mean you cannot provide a satisfying shopping experience to the customer. Things to note are – online shopping begins with the customer visiting your online store for the first time, and ends with the product being shipped and accepted by the customer. You can maximize your profits by improving upon every aspect of this customer-retailer relationship. We are listing out 6 hard points that can help you get the most out of your customer service.

How to Provide a Satisfying Customer Experience

1. Provide Quality Content and Product Information

If you partake in the online sales business through the various online sales channels like Flipkart, eBay, Amazon or Snapdeal, you have very little control over the overall aesthetics and page format of the website. But you do have complete control over the content in your seller’s page and product descriptions. Customers tend to judge the trustworthiness of the seller through the information that they put out on these pages. Not only is the accuracy of the information important, but its presentation too. Bad grammar, typographical mistakes, unbelievable offers and constant requests to ‘Give a Five Star Rating’, can be extremely annoying. Make sure that your online persona is pleasant, professional and helpful. Remember, for online sales, User Experience is the same as Customer Experience.

2. Provide Email Notifications

Once the customer has bought a product from you, make sure that you promptly provide notifications to them over email. Customers feel more comfortable once they can put a face to the brand. So, be creative and personalize your email notifications. Also, customers prefer hard timelines rather than estimates. Thus, try to provide the exact date and time for product delivery rather than a range of dates. You can use Browntape’s Multi Channel Inventory Management System that can automatically send branded, professional email notifications to your customers for this task.

3. The Importance of Returns

Most online retailers shy away from returns, because there is a potential for loss. But in the big picture, things are actually quite contrary. Studies show that customers find retailers who have a return policy more trustworthy than the ones who don’t. In fact, one particular study conducted by Granify that covered 20.8 million shoppers concluded that return policies were the most important factor for customers while choosing a retailer, followed by social proof. The price featured last. This is pretty logical too – it shows that you have enough confidence in the quality of your product that you are ready to handle a potential loss. Include a free shipping return label with your product, which will save your customer a lot of trouble. Inventory management systems can help you here too, by printing shipping labels in an efficient manner.

4. Improve Upon Your Customer Service

Who hasn’t dreaded the occasional customer service call, and being forwarded to different services reps, each asking the same set of questions? Customer service is potentially one of the most frustrating aspects of shopping experience for a customer. You can win brownie points from your customers by providing satisfying customer service. Be prompt in replying to customer emails and provide accurate details. During cases of returns and refunds, understand that though in this particular case you might not sell a product, you can gain a loyal customer.

5. Maintain Your Online Social Persona

We live in an age today where everything can be broadcast online. This means that everything including your seller’s rating, product reviews, comments on your website and even on your facebook page are under constant scrutiny by potential customers. Hence it is of utmost importance for you to be prompt and professional in every aspect of your online presence. Understand the negative criticism and learn from it. Answer queries patiently and with respect. This is what will earn the loyalty of a customer.

6. Make the Customer Feel Special

Of course, it is not always about being professional, and making complex strategic decisions. Keep it simple. The whole idea of opening a box to find what is inside is full of anticipation and joy. What can you do to make it more special? How about a little thank you note or a small goodie to go along with the product? How about innovative product packaging? There are tons of ideas you can employ here to make your customer truly feel special about the gift that they have received. What better experience than that?

This is just a taste of what can be done to improve your customer relationships. If you want to know more about customer service or any other aspect of online sales, get in touch with us at Browntape. We are India’s leading multi-channel online inventory management service providers. We come with decades of experience in the online sales and retail market in India, and are always happy to help you sell your products online, the smart way.

What are SKU Codes and How to Create Them

When it comes to keeping track of inventory, one of the most common methods employed is assignment of a Stock Keeping Unit, or SKU code to individual products. An SKU is a unique item, such as a product or a service, as it is offered for sale that embodies all the attributes connected with the item that distinguish it from other items. These attributes might include but are not limited to the brand, size, colour, manufacturer or warranty. Thus, a code that holds all this information about an item gives it a unique stature in your inventory, which means that tracking and recalling a particular item becomes easy. Also, since the code holds all the relevant information about the item, someone adept at reading the code can know everything about the item without having to go and check ‘the side of the box’.

There are a few other systems that incorporate codifying products for tracking purposes, like the Universal Product Code, or Global Trade Item Number, which utilize barcodes to identify with unique products in a database. The key factor with SKU is that a retailer gets the freedom to create his/her own SKU codes and incorporate them in the inventory system without having to adhere to a larger tracking scheme. With SKU, a retailer retains the flexibility of controlling the size of their inventory, changing manufacturers or wholesalers without the hassle of a system overhaul. Of course, the key here is that the SKU codes must be well created. That is, the user must be able to access all the relevant information about the product without confusion or misinterpretation through the code. So how does one go about creating good SKU codes? Let us find out through the 5 hard tips that follow.

How to Create Good SKU Codes

1. Make Your Own SKU Code

Try not to incorporate the manufacturer/wholesaler code within your SKU code. It might seem like a good idea to just pick up the manufacturer’s code and add a few prefixes/suffixes to create your own, but it’s a bad practice. In this case, you would have to completely overhaul your coding system in case you change your manufacturer or wholesaler. It’s too much hassle.

2. Decide What You Want Your Code to Say

Decide what information you want to access through the SKU code. There is no point loading the code with information you are never going to require. The main purpose for creating SKU codes is that you have an identifier with which you can visualize a unique product. Hence, use enough information for a successful identification of an item, but no more. For example, if the year of manufacture is irrelevant for a particular set of items, do not incorporate it in the code. It will just eat up space and would be prone to misinterpretation. Store this information under the product description tag, instead.

3. Use the Cascade Method

Create codes that are logically decipherable. For example, if you are planning to sell electronic equipment from different brands, first create a cascade chart for your information. How a cascade chart works is – start off by taking the largest set of information about your item first – in this case, ‘Electronic Equipment’ – and call it set ‘E’. Then you take the next most relevant subset, for example, ‘Laptops’. Let us call that set ‘L’. Then you ask, what brand does this laptop belong to? What model does it belong to? And so on. Keep adding attributes till you can uniquely identify that particular laptop in your warehouse using only the code. Stop adding the questions as soon as this unique identification is possible.

4. Fonts and Characters

Beware of confusing characters, or homoglyphs – O and 0, I and l, etc. It might sound trivial, but the font you use to print your codes play an important part in making sure that the reader is not confused. Our advice is to use bold, serif fonts that clearly define most characters without confusion. Try not to use symbols in your SKU codes. Even though it might seem like a good idea to use the ‘/’ to create breaks within your code, you don’t want Excel auto formatting the numbers, confusing them with a date. Other characters like $ and @ are too confusing and cause formatting errors all the time.

5. Use an Inventory Management System

Use an inventory management system to store and track your SKU codes. It’s just a better way of doing things. Most of your work becomes automated, your tasks are simplified and your formats are saved and notated for future reference. As compared to storing your codes on Excel files, which are prone to corruption, damage and confusion, inventory management systems give you a cleaner, more efficient perspective at the state of your warehouse.

Thus, we come to the end of our advice on SKU codes and how to create them. SKU codes are such an important part of your inventory management that you have to take proactive steps to create them efficiently. For further queries and assistance, get in touch with Browntape. We are India’s leading online inventory management system providers, and are always happy to help. Good luck with your sales!