Why Baseball and Retail’s All-Stars Need to Hit the Cutoff Man
Retail executives who tuned in to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game earlier this summer learned something about e-commerce operations if they paid close attention. When a ball was hit deep, they saw MLB’s best players hit the cutoff man when returning the ball to their teammates in the infield. Throwing a runner out when you’re too far away rarely works and, more often than not, leads to errors. Retail’s all-stars realize the same thing when thinking about their e-commerce return operations.
There are a number of things that can happen on the baseball diamond when a player tries to throw out a runner from deep in the outfield. For example, the ball might get there too late after a runner has already rounded the base, or it could give a runner on another base the chance they need to advance or score. That’s why using a cutoff man is so important — moving the ball more quickly across shorter distances gives the team a chance to redirect it and make the ideal play. Likewise, retailers that are sending return packages cross-country are wasting precious time when they could be “hitting the cutoff” by looking for ways to move the first touch of a return closer to the customer. Doing so will put retailers in a better position to make quick decisions that can improve their bottom lines and delight customers.
By re-evaluating returns to look for opportunities to create first-touch efficiencies, there are multiple “plays” that retailers can make. Some of them include the following:
- Faster refunds and exchanges: By inspecting returns closer to the customer, exchanges can be shipped and refunds credited more quickly. The speed and attentiveness makes customers happy and strengthens their affinity for a brand. In addition, retailers benefit because these customers can begin planning their next purchase right away.
- Lower transit costs: Shipping to nearby facilities instead of all the way back to a distribution center can reduce unnecessary costs, especially when the product being returned might ultimately be donated, destroyed or recycled. But even if that’s not the case, moving products in bulk for the final leg back can be much more cost effective.
- Faster restocking: Shortening the time it takes to see what’s coming back and the condition it’s in provides the ability to get it back into inventory and ready to be resold. This is especially important with seasonal items where there’s a limited time frame in which they’ll fetch full price before having to be discounted or sold to a discount retailer.
Customer expectations for a high-touch and high-quality online shopping experience are only increasing, and every interaction a customer has with a brand – from first click to product returns – matters equally. Online retailers can no longer simply “check the box” when it comes to returns; they have to consider how their returns experience reflects on the overall image of their brand. Details like pre-paid or printable return labels, proactive communication on the status of returns, and fast refunds and exchanges can make a big difference in how customers perceive the overall brand experience.
With expectations rising for free returns, retailers have to carefully consider strategies that don’t break the bank. However, there’s good news: Thoughtfully implementing the right strategies can turn returns from a cost center into an opportunity to actually drive profit.
By learning from the boys of summer and “hitting the cutoff” to move the first touch of a return closer to their customers, retail’s all-stars can put themselves in a better position to deliver the best and most efficient returns experience possible.
Joe Ballato is senior product manager at Newgistics, a provider of digital commerce development, fulfillment, parcel delivery and returns management to retailers and brands.