Insight / Blog

Should carriers build or buy their digital returns portal?

Posted on 21st March 2022

Summary: 74% of merchants are interested in carrier-provided returns solutions. But should you buy a returns portal, or build it in-house?

57% of retailers say returns are a significant problem for their business, our returns report has uncovered.

There are many aspects to this, but one of the primary reasons is that current returns solutions are outdated and not fit for purpose. 64% of merchants don’t use an integrated platform, meaning all returns are treated the same regardless of the item, size, or value. It’s no wonder that retailers are feeling the pressure to charge for returns among rising return rates.

“25 years into eCommerce, it’s staggering how inefficient returns are and how little innovation there has been in this area.”

Mike Richmond, Doddle CRO, via the returns quandary webinar

Our research shows that 94% of retailers see making returns better as a priority for their business. However, most merchants won’t have the ability to develop their own returns solutions in-house.

That’s where carriers can come in. By solving this problem for merchants, they can deepen their relationships, win additional new business thanks to a more complete ecommerce proposition, and enable their merchant customers to succeed in ecommerce, driving long-term parcel volume increases. 

The market is there, and 74% of merchants who don’t currently use them are interested in carrier-provided solutions. The only question now is how carriers meet this demand. Should they build their own digital returns portal from the ground up, or leverage existing solutions?

What makes a great digital returns portal?

An excellent digital returns portal needs to be easy to use and give merchants greater control over their returns. Functionally, this means an “integrated” portal that uses customers’ order data from the merchant to display items available to be returned at the start of the journey.

This allows merchants to create specific rules and procedures based on the particular items sold. For example, they could refuse returns for specific item types like swimwear, and set returns windows to prevent returns from occurring after more than a 30-day limit.

Returns solutions need this rules-based customisation capability, because no two merchants operate identically. For example, where merchants have more than one location where they can process returns, they should be able to set rules about when returns are shipped to one location, and when they’re shipped to another. These rules could be aiming at reducing transport emissions, or direct certain types of items to specific locations to reduce processing time.

Integrated solutions don’t just provide merchants with better control and a more efficient, customer-friendly process. They also offer space for promotional material and messaging to increase loyalty and repeat purchases from their customers, turning returns into recovered revenue. If carriers can make ecommerce returns a more profitable area for merchants, their merchants will be able to grow and provide more outbound volume to the carrier in turn.

Building a returns portal in-house

Building your own digital returns portal from the ground up will give you complete control over your portal’s design, features, and functionality. You can tailor it absolutely to the requirements of your organisation and ways of working, and you can take full responsibility for the development and operation of the platform, which can be reassuring to have completely in-house.

However, this control comes at the cost of time, money, and technical resources – often in high demand for multiple projects. It’s not just the build phase which requires technical capacity. Once you’ve created, tested and launched a portal, there are the constant requirements of maintenance, support and updates to account for.

What’s more, the timeline for building from scratch will mean that merchants might be tempted to adopt alternative solutions in the interim, from third-party providers, or even other carriers. One way to address this is to get out a minimum viable product (MVP) as soon as possible, but this can leave a sour taste for shoppers who are used to seamless digital experiences – as a result, MVP solutions can be a hard sell to merchants.

Why ready-made solutions benefit carriers

Ready-made returns portals are already built, battle-tested and designed to be easy to implement, saving you months of work and technical investment which can be used to deliver value in other areas of your business. Buying a returns portal allows you to offer a complete solution to merchants right away, ensuring you maximise adoption and coverage before other carriers or third-party providers gain market share that’s rightfully yours.

While you won’t have total control over design and development, existing returns portal solutions provide deep customisation for you and your merchants, ensuring that it fits both branding and functional requirements to sync up with your business. In some ways, not having total design control could even be a blessing – as it eliminates the temptation to design a solution optimised for your business, rather than balancing the needs of merchants and shoppers too. Pre-built returns portals have been designed to ensure every stakeholder benefits in the returns journey, which in turn means merchants are more likely to adopt and more volume will flow through the solution for the carrier. 

In addition, ready-made portals have already been tried, tested and iterated upon to guarantee a great customer experience. Similarly, they’ll be maintained and updated for you, for added peace of mind that you’re always offering a top-quality experience guided by global user research and market testing.

Should you build or buy?

There are pros and cons to building and buying. Ultimately, it depends on your needs and capabilities to decide which option is best for you.

To help put it into perspective, we’ve rounded up the key points to consider.

Solving digital returns with Doddle

Used by over 550 merchants and major carriers worldwide, our digital returns platform is ready-made to enable you to offer market-leading returns solutions to your customers and new business prospects.

Built by experts with years of industry experience, our digital returns solution is a fully integrated, customisable platform with automatic communications and powerful analytics to make returns more efficient, profitable and simple.

Want to know more? Get in touch with the Doddle team today.

Ecommerce returns: a Doddle roundtable

We discuss real-world returns behaviours, and consumer preferences and how these could inform carrier strategy.

Find out more



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