Considerations for RMAs in eCommerce Marketplace

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Return Merchandise Authorizations (RMAs)

What Is an RMA and Why Is It Important?

RMA stands for Return Merchandise Authorization, and includes dealing with merchandise returns, doing customer service, and providing support for post-order workflows. The RMA process is extremely important because the marketplace’s credibility is very dependent upon what the customers’ experiences are like when something doesn’t go well.

Give Clients the Support They Need

Optimize Customer Satisfaction

Having to return an item or having a non-functional item can be challenging for the customer because they may be very dependent on that item. They may need it to work in order for their business to function at the expected efficiency level, or in order to cover their expenses. This can be very serious for a business, or if it’s on an individual level it can cause a lot of frustration.

Therefore, having a robust RMA process is crucial not only for the credibility of the business doing the RMA, but also for the customer to handle the situation and get what they need in a timely manner. Because unfortunately, things happen from time to time. It may be that the wrong item is shipped because it’s in an incorrect package, an item is never received, an item is damaged, or something isn’t working properly, etc.

improved customer happiness with the ease of the RMA process

Having a plan and process in place for if something doesn’t go right will help to mitigate any further issues and get the problem quickly resolved. The faster we can address the client’s concern, the more satisfied the customer will be. If we can provide a virtually immediate response, their disappointment is going to be mitigated to the fullest extent possible.

Enhance the User Interface with Self-Service

The RMA process needs to be quick and easy so the customer can precisely identify which item or items had an issue and provide detail about what those issues were. That would mean including not just a standard selection, but also notes that go along with that, and possibly the ability to upload images and any other documentation that the customer wants to provide. The end user should also be able to easily return items from within an order on an individual or line-item or quantity item level.

Since interacting with customer support is more cumbersome than automated online systems, the name of the game is having self-service capabilities.

Understand Communication Subtleties

Another thing that’s really helpful with the RMA processes to determine the state of the customer is to listen to the tone of voice or content; they may have a frustrated tone in their comments and the selections process itself may contribute toward escalation with your customer support team. To enable the buyer to receive the most optimal experience possible, we recommend having a chat or phone to call, so it’s possible for the marketplace to respond before the customer gets extremely frustrated.

Almost every business has some customers who just aren't going to be happy with their process, but the RMA process helps to resolve the issues those customers have and keep them from getting too frustrated or irritated, which is a game changer for an eCommerce marketplace. If we can have our most short-tempered customers be only slightly irritated, that much better than having seriously angry customers because they can’t return anything, and they have to wait for customer service who doesn’t answer the phone, and so forth.

communicate effectively for RMAs in the marketplace

Therefore, this is mechanically one of the most powerful aspects of the actual customer support—making sure that when there are issues with the order the customer gets the support that they need.

Validation in the eMarketplace

Varying Quality with Different Vendors

One of the challenges with marketplaces is that you’re dealing with many different sellers or vendors, who may all have different quality levels for what concepts they’re bringing to the table. There may be items that a vendor sends that don’t match the description of what’s on the website.

In some cases, it makes sense to have an escrow system, or some form of validation that the item was fulfilled properly before the vendor receives the payment, as it’s critical the buyer get what they are looking for—whether it's a C2C, B2B, or B2C marketplace.

Each item should have the option to have a returnable or non-returnable label status, and what the details are behind that. If there’s a large container shipment, then they may not be able to return that, especially if it was an expensive shipping process. We also need to have documentation and detailed advice for the buyer and seller so they can clearly document everything up front for the items purchased and being shipped.

eCommerce Marketplace store Vendor and buyer

Ultimately, the RMA process should truly be about making sure the customer satisfaction is there and that the good name of your marketplace is preserved, even if there are some poor performers who are getting lots of returns. We need to be able to accumulate the data on these vendor companies and help them find a different marketplace to participate in if they are unable to meet certain standards for quality and customer satisfaction resolution.

Processing RMAs

RMA Policies & Governance of the Marketplace

contemplating RMA policies and marketplace governance

The RMA process begins with defining and enabling the buyer and the seller to adhere to a standard for what the return and refund policies are. Do they apply across the whole marketplace, or just to specific product categories? Or are they different between individual products? What are the policies for different situations? The answers to these and more questions need to be established, and once they are, then if an item does need to be refunded or returned for whatever reason, there is a seamless process to be able to do that.

To enable that seamlessness, the backend needs to be fully automated, so that the reason for the RMA can be specified on an order level, line-item level, and line-item quantity level with each of the items within the quantity of line items, being potentially a different RMA reason. Then we need the user to be able to provide notes and interact with customer support once the self-service RMA process has been initiated. So internally, once an RMA goes out the vendor needs to receive this information, and it should be automatically synced into the internal marketplace ERP and CRM so the company can monitor everything.

It's also useful to note that there are some customers who simply try to take advantage of the system. We do want to be clear that if there's a repeat offense or continual abuse of this RMA process from a particular customer IP address then we probably need to dig deeper and make sure that the customer has all the information and resources they need. If we’re seeing a lot of RMAs on a particular vendor, and they’re coming from a particular customer, then those are good signs that there’s something wrong there. There could also be a validation process with pictures, tracking information, and documentation, so that if the buyer is trying to initiate a return policy based on not receiving the item fast enough, and that’s not the case, then that can be dealt with according to the policies.

The governance helps reassure that there will be trust within that marketplace. Now, ultimately a lot of this is dependent on the sellers, but the overall marketplace team can determine which sellers are in the marketplace and they can also determine what rules the sellers abide by and how the buyers interact with the sellers as far as the flow in the process.

RMA Policies and Marketplace Governance

Therefore, we strongly recommend that the marketplace management team leadership consider themselves as the stewards of the marketplace and that they have a strong opinion on how things should run. And if they don't have one, they need to form one about what's best for the customer, and how we can reinforce that throughout this marketplace. How can we make sure that no matter what, the customer is always getting taken care of, so the buyer is getting what they need? Answer that question, and then the rest flows naturally.

Make Things Easy

RMA Process Automation

RMA Process Automation

The process after the RMA has been submitted needs to be fully automated as much as possible. Vendors need to be able to receive documentation for the items when the buyer ships them, and it’s important that they are able to print labels and request shipping pickup or other shipping options.

Depending on the complexity of the logistics options, some of these pieces may just not make sense to automate until there's further scale with the marketplace. But to the extent that automation is possible, it should be done, for things such as printing shipping labels, anything related to customs and duties, as well as instructions for where to drop off, how to get a pickup scheduled, and the pickup of the package, as these things are all really key for customer support.

Updated Status Information

Notifying of Priority Items for RMAs

The seller needs to be able to update the RMA so that the buyer can see the package was received and what to expect next. It’s important to make it abundantly clear to the seller that this is a priority. This can be done through email notifications, through decorating the actual notification such as putting an exclamation point on it, making it red, or other things that highlight the urgency of fulfilling this and putting it into reports that the vendor or seller and buyer can review.

Once the seller has received an RMA request from the buyer, we also need to leverage workflows, so the seller continues to be notified and the buyer continues to get updates. For example, an update might be,

“we’re checking in with your vendor again, click here if you wish to initiate a chat request with the vendor."

notifications for RMA

Otherwise, we typically advise vendors to respond to our request within 24 to 48 hours, or it could be 4 to 8 hours depending on your guidelines. Or we could tell the buyer something like, “based on your status as a premier marketplace member, we’re going to be a liaison with the seller and enable a 48-hour response time within business hours to your RMA,” or whatever it is for your marketplace and specific business rules that apply.

RMAs for Differing Expectations

Managing Expectations for Better Interactions

Sometimes an order is disputed, so it’s helpful to have a chat function, pictures, and a facilitated interaction between the vendor, seller, and buyer. There can also be an intermediate customer service representative who’s helping to interact between the parties, or there can be an automated process that gets them to talk and review via chat so they can discuss the state of the order.

  • “Hey, you sent me the wrong item; this doesn't work.”
  • “The tolerances are off on these items.”
  • “This diamond doesn't have the level of clarity that is documented.”

—Or whatever the various issues might be. And one response might be,

  • “Here's what we received. Your order is this, which is what we sent. It sounds like we did our part. We sent you as indicated what you ordered.”

While another response could be,

  • “I see the problem. We’ll ship you a replacement and won’t charge you as long as you send that one back within a week.”

It’s crucial to be able to manage the actual order that was sent versus what the customer is expecting. Pictures can be helpful, as well as chatting back and forth over a chat tool, or just using email that’s connected to a chat inside the marketplace.

Support for RMAs & Updated Status

Enable Contact with a Support Team

RMA Support Team

In a marketplace, it is really important to be able to see the status at all times for the end user. The status should include if the item has gone up or down in demand/price as well as reasonable timeline expectations for when to see a response and when an item is going through a process.

If it isn’t being handled properly by the vendor, the customer should have the ability to escalate to the marketplace support team or go from an automated process to a manual process, such as a chat or a phone call. And this can be with the marketplace support team or the vendor if the vendor provided contact information and authorized us to provide that to the end user.

These are all key aspects of RMAs with the marketplace if it's international or across long distances. Having the ability to escalate the process and get relatively immediate responses is absolutely critical in providing training for the vendors so that they know what the expectations are. If they receive these kind of requests for an RMA, they need to be able to get responses back quickly.

It might make sense to apply consequences to vendors or sellers, and benefits based on how responsive they are in the marketplace. Maybe they get complimentary credits for advertising, or they get promoted more if they're really responsive. And maybe they get demoted, or they have to pay more for advertising if they aren't very high quality with their customer support. This ties back into the whole governance part.

Alternative Methods for RMAs

Dealing with Split Payments & Split Shipping for RMAs

RMAs can be quite complicated when dealing with split payments and split shipping. One of the other aspects of RMAs is dealing with where money gets refunded to. This can be a potential security risk if there is a split payment, or if someone's requesting that funds go to a different payment method than what was used to check out. It’s a good idea to enforce certain rules about where refunds get issued to, and this starts by keeping track of split shipment and split payment data.

The other thing that we see quite often is dealing with coupon codes and discount codes as sometimes these can apply across multiple products. If somebody is doing an RMA for an item they want to refund, then we need to be able to account for the associated items that they may have received for free.

Split Payment and Split Shipping for RMAs

Some of the other things that are common to think about are dealing with taxes, customs, duties, expensive shipments, complex orders, and what the business logic is going to be. In some cases, it may not make sense to actually return an item. It might make sense to ship a replacement part that's part of the bigger item, and then even potentially offer to have a service representative go on-site to install the replace part of the item.

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