How to Enhance Efficiency and Sustainability with Self-Service Automated Returns

on Oct 27, 2023

“Can I please speak to someone to check on my order?” 

This single question can sometimes feel like a never-ending request for customer service teams. During peak seasons, support teams can drown in hundreds or thousands of inquiries about current orders' status. This prevents them from solving problems that may need a more seasoned approach.

That’s why implementing self-service automated return functionality is critical to businesses. Without an automated returns process, you’re falling behind and may not serve your customers in the best possible way.

This article will explore how self-service automated returns can enable your business to operate more effectively and sustainably. 

Revolutionizing the returns process

Let’s look at how customers would return orders in the past to understand how to improve the returns process.

At the turn of the century, it wasn’t uncommon for enterprise businesses to have a manual return process. This process, however, was incredibly cumbersome and slow-moving.

That’s not all, though. A manual process may not ultimately result in a completed return and refund due to various issues that may arise throughout the many steps.

So, how does a manual return process work? A manual return process often has four main steps.

First, a customer must initiate the return process by calling a number for the store, bringing the item to the store, or potentially sending an email to the store. 

Then, the customer must provide the necessary personal identification information. This would include the customer's name, order number, item number, and payment method.

This information would be collected and cataloged in some way. An employee could write it down after hearing it over the phone, or an email inbox would collect inquiries. 

Sometimes, a support ticket through a specific software would be created to keep track of a particular return request.

Eventually, a team member would process the return, adding the item back into inventory and refunding the customer.

This manual process involved customer service agents initiating each step with a trigger. Without it, the process would stall. 

Unfortunately, this is why manual returns processes are often holding businesses back. They are considered:

    • Costly: Businesses need to manually add more employees or resources to take charge of each step.
    • Prone to human error: Customer support agents can mistakenly input the wrong information without automation, causing issues.
    • Inefficient: Manually processing each return takes longer than if real-time automation were in place.

Customer interacting with service agent

A shaky, error-prone manual process will cause the costs and inefficiencies to skyrocket as the business scales.

The global cost of retail returns will grow approximately 2.2% to $627.34 billion this year, which accounts for 8.5% in retail sales.

Thus, businesses that are staying ahead of their competition and striving to be market leaders are adopting a self-service, automated return process.

Let’s take a look at how this works and the benefits associated with it.

How self-service automated returns work

Self-service automated returns give the customers power throughout the process.

This is something that customers aren’t always asking for, but customer-centric businesses know that their customers see value in it. 

After all, who wouldn’t want an easy return process that can be done without even talking to another human? This return process can happen on their own time, with information easily retrievable by the system in place.

So how does it work?

Instead of waiting for someone to process the return manually, a customer can initiate the process by logging into their account and selecting the item to return.

With an index of user accounts, every order detail is uniquely cataloged and available to the user. They can easily see past purchases and select which one they wish to return.

Additionally, the system can detect valid return windows for each item. If an item is outside the timeframe for returns, the user cannot select it and initiate the returns process.

Once the customer selects the item, they will be guided through the process, which usually only takes two more steps.

Businesses can automate returns based on return status and trigger emails automatically to update their customers on their order or return status.

Female logging into her account on her phone

Then, the customer will be responsible for shipping the item back or              dropping it off at a retail store or a third-party location like UPS. Amazon, for example, allows its customers to drop items off at their local Whole Foods after the online return steps are complete.

That’s the last step. Once it is shipped back and processed at a facility, the refund will be delivered to the customer within a few days.

This type of process eliminates the need for additional employees to process each return manually and ultimately can save a company money in the long run.

Two of the most common calls into support are: where is my order (WISMO) and where is my refund? Giving customers control over the refund process with an online account and tracking information can help eliminate these inquiries. 

Then, those agents can proactively enhance customers’ experiences in other ways that are more personalized and meaningful. 

Let’s break down some of the top benefits of implementing an automated return functionality for your business.

The value of self-service automated returns

Need more convincing to implement automated returns for your business? 

In 2023, automating returns and refunds has increased by 335% YoY. It’s popular with businesses and customers — but why? 

There is a financial cost and investment of time associated with implementing automated return functionality. So, what is the business case for it? What are the key benefits of implementing self-service automated return functionality?

Self-service automated returns can offer businesses many benefits, including cost savings, customer service, transparency, and speed.

Icons for each benefit of self-service

Cost savings

Think how much time your team spends on the hundreds or thousands of support tickets you’re getting each month. 

Most of these tickets are likely WISMO questions that could be automated, freeing your team to concentrate on other issues. 

In some instances, you may be able to reduce the number of team members you need allocated to customer service. 

Another potential cost savings opportunity would be the amount of fraud and    costs associated with human error that automation would eliminate. 

Better customer service

Customers are yearning to take control of the returns process and initiate it on their terms. 

Few people enjoy talking directly to a customer service agent; many would rather handle it themselves.

With more time added to your customer support team’s calendars, you can have them concentrate on more holistic strategies to improve the customer experience.

This could be designing more straightforward buyer journeys or adding more resources to the website so the customer understands different aspects of the functionality.

Sometimes, it may even free up the customer service agents to interact with customers on a deeper, more personalized level.


To build trust, you need to have transparency.

Thankfully, self-serving automated refunds provide transparency in the online portal. 

Once a customer logs in and begins the refund process, they can follow along and see if the refund is pending or has been issued.

It is key to have this vital information at their fingertips. A manual refund process wouldn’t provide the same luxury of transparency since the package wouldn’t be tracked in real time.

The online portal is necessary for customers to feel knowledgeable about their return process and control their own money.


Self-service automated returns cut out the need for a middleman and ultimately eliminate a handful of steps, making the entire process faster from start to finish.

First, automated returns can be completed at any time of day. This could include in the late hours of the night. 

Customers don’t have to wait for a business to be open to begin the refund process. Instead, they can start it immediately in just a few clicks.

In addition, there isn’t a lag between steps due to other orders needing to be processed ahead of your order. 

Automated returns can process multiple orders concurrently since the middleman is cut out of the equation.

Businesses that don’t adopt self-service automated returns will fall behind their competitors that do.


Businesses with self-service automated returns give control back to their customers.

With added transparency over their orders and refunds, customers will be more enticed to buy from the business again — even if they are sending their orders back.

Plus, automated returns cut down on labor costs and the time team members need to spend addressing certain issues. 

Overall, it’s an essential function digitally-savvy enterprise businesses must have to stay ahead.

Implement a self-service automated return system and enhance your customer experience with DeliverySolutions. 

Request a demo today to explore our omnichannel experience management platform.

About the author

Caitlyn Metzker

Caitlyn Metzker, a professional with 9 years of experience, brings a wealth of insight to her Sr. Enterprise Account Executive role. As a University of South Carolina graduate, Caitlyn has honed her skills within the industry previously with Roadie and Kabbage. Originating from Philadelphia, her multifaceted interests include traveling, hiking, soccer, swimming, and boating, reflecting her adventurous spirit. Her favorite getaway is the picturesque Kauai, Hawaii. Caitlyn's business philosophy underscores the importance of continuous learning, as she believes that "there is always more to learn; absorb as much as you can." When not devising groundbreaking strategies, Caitlyn unwinds by delving into books or enjoying the serene beach. Adding a unique touch, she cherishes the privilege of occasionally working alongside her sister and mother as part of the UPS Digital family. Caitlyn's profound industry knowledge and passion make her an invaluable asset to our B2B SaaS sales and marketing team.


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