High product returns? Simple packaging & shipping tips to reduce & repair

Editor | Sep 10, 2020

High returns rate is a huge cause of concern for ecommerce companies and online sellers. While IOS has written in depth about how unfair ecommerce return policies are contributing to this high rate, another legitimate reason is- defective/damaged products.

One of the ways to manage the return rate and keep it low is by adopting stringent measures for packaging and delivery of goods so as to reduce damage in-transit.

Select the right packaging

A product passes through various hands before it reaches from the seller to the buyer. But only two people actually care about the condition of the ‘product’ – the seller who has spent money on making it and the buyer who has spent money on buying it.

“The logistic companies are too careless with the parcels. Most of the time I get external damaged returns, so the inner packing should be best of the best because you don’t know what is going to happen with your item,” shared an online seller Abdul Kadir Natali with IndianOnlineSeller.

So online sellers, please pack your products carefully so that it can brave the storm and reach the customer safely. Here are the things that you need to keep in mind:

  • Polybags/Security Envelopes: Best for packing apparels, fashion accessories, books, small but sturdy products and lightweight products (up to 2kgs). They are easy to use, water resistant and tamper proof. A pack of 100 poly bags (12 x 14 inches) cost approximately INR 650-700
  • Corrugated box: High-quality corrugated boxes shield packages from any jolt or in-transit damage. Great for packing computer accessories, mobile phones, LED bulbs, baby care products and bulky products above 2 kgs. A pack of 50 3 ply boxes (7 x 5 x 4.3 inches) cost approximately INR 500
  • Tapes: Strong and designed for industrial use tapes to seal and pack boxes
  • Bubble wraps: Nothing beats bubble wrap for packing fragile products or adding an additional layer of protection. This is a must for internal packaging irrespective of the product (excluding clothes). A pack of 500 permanent self seal bubble bags (4 x 4 inches) cost approximately INR 600

Tips for packaging

For fragile items such as ceramics, glassware and breakable items, conduct a drop test to find the optimum packaging material and combination.

Amazon UK’s website states “(Fragile items) must pass a 125 cm (4 feet apprx.) drop test without any items breaking. A drop test consists of five drops: on the base, on the top, on the longest side, on the shortest side, and on a corner. The items should not move or shake within the container and should pass a vigorous shake test without any items breaking.”

  • For long items, drape bubblewrap sheets down the length of the item, instead of wrapping it multiple times around the width of the item
  • For multiple items, wrap each component individually in 1 layer of bubblewrap, and then seal them all together with an additional layer
  • Increase the layer of the bubblewrap to restrict movement of the package inside the box
  • Recycle boxes and contact local dealers to get hands on papers and cardboard boxes

Do not opt for cheap packing material to cut down on costs. Natali warned, “Cutting down on cost is always advised but with packing material it is not. Because when you get a return, you know how your product in the packing which you did, survived all the careless handling and impacts by the logistic company staff. To save money, buy in bulk.”

Shipping Practices

It is practical to use services of your marketplace’s logistics partner for this part of ecommerce order fulfilment for pure convenience. All you need to do is keep the package ready with invoices and labels, as instructed. But there have been cases where the marketplace didn’t pick or deliver the product on time and in the end seller gets blamed. Also, certain pincodes don’t fall under a marketplace’s pick up location. To avoid such situations, you can decide to choose your own delivery partner.

“If chosen (delivery partner) by your marketplace is fine, otherwise all those who have prompt service in the buyer’s pincode, works fine. Sellers must compare rates and rating of logistic companies before sending out the products,” Natali said.

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General Tips for Ecommerce Shipping:

  • Price your product such that the shipping cost is divided between you (seller) and the customer if you don’t want to completely burden yourself or the buyer
  • Limit ‘Free Shipping’ to certain pincodes and order size
  • Dispatch the order within 24 hours
  • Work with multiple delivery partners
  • Unless, you can get a discount for high volume by sticking to one delivery partner
  • A very handy tip shared by a Quora user: For packages up to 2 kgs ship by air mode and for above 2kgs by road
  • Insure high value packages
  • If your product can bear being tossed and thrown around carelessly (like a t-shirt) then consider using India Post

Consider Outsourcing When…

It’s great to have complete control over your order fulfilment. Right from picking the best available packaging option to shipping the goods under your watchful eyes, it feels good to know that your product is dispatched safely.

Although, as the business grows, sellers often realize how difficult it is to keep track of the orders, pack everything properly, paste all the labels and ship on time to meet the delivery timeline. That’s when marketplace fulfilment comes in the picture. In order to support sellers, many ecommerce companies offer packing & delivering services.

But few sellers feel it’s more of a disservice to them.

“The shipment packaging is done according to the category and if your product is expensive and your category does not allow the corrugated box packaging than they will ship it in polybags. We had 38% damages when it was shipped by the FA (Flipkart Advantage) and when we shipped by ourself it’s 2% only,” shared Himanshu Singh when we asked for views on Marketplace or Self-Fulfilment – Which one should you pick?

Another seller wrote on Amazon India’s seller forum:

Does that mean all your options are exhausted? No! You can outsource inventory and logistics management. It will not only reduce your burden, but will also take away the stress of depending on marketplace’s services.

Like Emiza’s founder rightly said, “Eventually an in-house fulfilment solution becomes the bottleneck to growth. The seller needs a solution that can expand and contract seamlessly with his business volumes, allows the seller to focus on product management and “selling” and gives the seller predictability in costs per unit on a variable model instead of a fixed sunk cost.”

Online sellers, if you have more tips related to packaging, shipping and overall logistics, please do share.


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