Feb. 3 2012 04:37 PM

If you are one of the millions who shopped online this holiday season, then you were potentially faced with the laborious task of returning an item. It could be one that you received or had shipped to someone on your list. Either way, it's a good possibility you had more fun eating Grandma's fruitcake. People hate returning items so much that many either discard or give them away, foregoing the refund altogether.

Unless you're Devin Hester, the NFL's all-time return specialist, you probably want no part of the return process. But it's not just bad for the consumer; returns are hurting ecommerce companies as well. That's because online consumers are demanding a simplified return process and they are demonstrating this by finding someone else to buy from when the process is too cumbersome.

Smart e-tailers simplify the exchange process and, in so doing, build loyalty and profits. Companies that want to grow their e-commerce business in 2012 and beyond are taking steps to simplify the process and that's good news for consumers. Those that don't will lose business as reported in 2011 by DC Velocity.

Satisfying consumer demands can put ecommerce companies in an awkward position. They may not even know what items are coming back until they arrive on their docks. After the holidays, this scene can resemble that of Mr. Galley's in Miracle on 34th Street, when the US Postal service dumped thousands of pieces of mail on the judge's desk. For ecommerce companies, it's as much fun to receive, open and record the contents of each returned carton, as it would have been for the judge to read each letter and joyously respond. This is costing a significant sum of money that gets passed on to the consumer.

Finally, new solutions are here and that means a simpler return process and happier online shoppers. Below are solutions ecommerce companies are deploying to simplify returns, satisfy their consumers and grow their businesses:

· Print and include an 8 X 11 label/packing slip with each order. These labels provide simplicity and convenience since the return label is already built in. Consumers simply write in a comment (reason for return), peel the label, stick it on the carton and give it to the letter carrier. Unfortunately this process creates enormous waste since only about 10% of consumers return their purchases. The other 90% of these slips/labels simply end up in landfills.

· Sato America (visit: www.satoamerica.com) markets a two-sided shipping label with built in packing slip and return label. The consumer simply removes the top portion of the label, writes a comment and affixes the label in reverse. This is a simple method and step in the right direction that eliminates wasteful packing slips and helps the environment when compared with conventional means.

· Newgistics, the leader in reverse logistics (visit www.newgistics.com) touts its SmartLabel, a technology solution that helps companies get control and visibility of returns and simplifies the process for consumers. Simply apply the already included USPS return label, write the reason for the return and give it to the letter carrier.

· The newest innovation touted as a revolution in the return process is called EcoReturn www.ecoreturn.com and this solution not only eliminates all packing slips and return labels, it actually makes the return process enjoyable for the consumer. Scan the QR code on the outside of the box with any mobile device, tap the item being returned, affix the emailed return label and give it to your letter carrier. There is no simpler or more environmentally friendly return process.

Ecommerce companies must find a return solution that can help reduce their carbon footprint, build customer loyalty and save money. Bottom line: Returns Happen - but that doesn't mean it has to be a nuisance for the consumer or hurt the environment when they do. If you have any comments or ideas on how to simplify the return process, I would love to hear from you.

I hope this helps you Ship Better and Save Money