Many Happy Returns

Simple Solutions

How well you handle online returns will likely determine your future success-or failure-in the dotcom world.

There are a number of ways to handle returns, but one particularly popular way is to provide customers with return labels that can be placed on packages to be sent back to the ful-fillment center or business. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) was the first to offer a system to allow customers to print return labels straight from their own PCs. Called Returns@ease, it works like this: After customers alert you that they want to return items, you can provide them with merchandise return labels via the Web so they can return the packages by mail.

To use Returns@ease, you must obtain a merchandise return permit from the USPS and set up an account at a local post office. The reg-istration application, programming codes and applicable guidelines for using the service can be found online at USPSPriorityMail.com. The service is free to customers and doesn't require additional hardware or software. Keep in mind, though, that there is a minimum charge to merchants of 30 cents per return, plus postage and any fees for special services such as shipping insurance and delivery confirmation.

UPS also has an e-returns service that provides consumers with a label they can print from their PCs. But the UPS system has additional functions. For example, "[If your customer returns a CD because] he changed his mind, the system can ship it back to the merchant for restocking," says Steve Holmes of UPS. "But if the CD was returned because it was defective, the system knows immediately to put the name and address of the manufacturer on the return label so it can be returned under warranty."

Once packages are shipped, you and your customers can keep track of the status of those packages directly from your Web site or via the UPS Web site. Customers can hand return packages to any of UPS' 70,000 drivers, or-depending on your returns policy-UPS drivers can pick up the packages at consumers' homes.

Based on your returns policy, you'll be charged a transaction fee and various transportation charges, which are billed to you or your customer once you receive the items from each return.

Melissa Campanelli is a technology writer in Brooklyn, New York, who has covered technology for Mobile Computing & Communications and Sales & Marketing Management magazines. You can reach her at mcampanelli@earthlink.net.

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This article was originally published in the January 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Many Happy Returns.

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