Blog 7 minutes

How to optimize e-commerce returns management for B2B customers

Sana Editorial Team
August 25, 2023
woman in warehouse managing inventory digitally

For B2B businesses that sell online, e-commerce returns management is a crucial component of the customer experience. A poor returns process can tarnish your business’s reputation and erode trust with valuable clients, not to mention lead to profit losses, inventory mismanagement, and increased operational costs.

According to the latest B2B Buyer Report, which collates results from over 1000 B2B buyers across industries, a third of all orders placed online include order errors. As more B2B businesses embrace e-commerce, having an optimized returns strategy becomes crucial in ensuring customer satisfaction and long-term profitability.

Why is it important to prioritize e-commerce returns management?

For some businesses, it can seem counter-intuitive to invest more resources than necessary into returns management – why not prevent mistakes from occurring in the first place? That sounds logical enough, but the hard stats tell us it’s also idealistic.

The real answer is simple: your customers.

Meeting your buyers’ needs and helping them overcome their challenges will improve your customer satisfaction. Naturally, a high customer satisfaction rate leads to increased repeat orders, reduced churn, and an overall increase in revenue. So, understanding and meeting your buyers’ needs is crucial to your organization’s success.

What causes B2B e-commerce errors (and subsequently, returns)?

There are two prevalent kinds of issues that can cause returns:

Inaccurate information

Here are some of the most cited hurdles to online purchasing according to buyers today, along with the way they might impact the state of your returns:

  • Lack of accurate information on delivery times

If a buyer needs an order fulfilled by a certain deadline and have been misinformed, they are prone to switching to a supplier that can do so. The result? An excess of inventory that might require a return.

  • Lack of accurate information on stock levels

Customers who are told their desired product quantity is not available might resort to returning an order out of frustration.

  • Lack of product information

Customers need purchase critical information about a product, and if they haven’t had access to all the necessary information, there’s a higher chance they might initiate a return.

Human error

This includes:

  • incorrect product selection
  • incorrect purchase entry
  • incorrect/incomplete shipping information and
  • incorrect account data entry

What is the impact of e-commerce returns and errors in B2B?

The B2B Buyer Report reveals B2B organizations place orders with their suppliers as much as 420 times a day on average. The sheer volume of these orders can reveal how easily inefficiency in the ordering and returns process can have a profound impact on your customer’s organizations.

On average, online order errors and returns have been shown to decrease profitability, efficiency, and productivity by 6-10%, and sales by 1-5%. There are other implications too – here’s a quick overview:

  • Financial consequences: whether through direct costs, payment delays, or directly lost revenue, poorly handled e-commerce returns management can be very costly to your business.
  • Operational challenges: Unclear processes can create difficulties when it comes to inventory management and logistics. This can become a time consuming and complex process.
  • Strain on relationships: Frequent order errors will erode the trust between your customers and business, which is especially detrimental in B2B settings where long-term relationships are so important.
  • Reputational impact: 74% of B2B buyers are willing to switch suppliers for a superior B2B web store, and this encompasses the returns process. In a community as tightly-knit as B2B industries, news of unreliable service can spread quickly, potentially deterring other businesses from partnering or purchasing.
  • Challenges in data analysis: With proper attention being devoted to e-commerce returns management, it’s very likely returns and errors can skew sales and inventory data crucial to build on strategy.

What are the most common reasons customers struggling with returns?

Here are the top reasons for online shoppers to find returns a struggle:

  • Lack of communication from merchants about receipt of returns or refund statuses
  • Time required for refunds to be issues
  • Unhappy to be charged for return shipping
  • Lack of return label not being included in the shipping box


Other common reasons might include unclear return policies, complex return procedures, limited return options or condition restrictions. Regardless of the reason, customers who stumble across obstacles when attempting to return an item can get frustrated and be left with their trust in your organization negatively impacted.

Checklist to prevent e-commerce errors and returns

So how can you ensure e-commerce returns management takes place efficiently within your organization?

Previous research reveals that the top 2 KPIs buyers use when benchmarking web stores are cost-savings and increasing efficiency.

Facilitating an error-free order intake — and consequently avoiding any decrease in profitability, efficiency, productivity, and sales for your customers’ organizations — is, therefore, key to delivering excellent B2B customer experience.

These are some of the steps you can take to prevent e-commerce returns and errors, due to both human errors and incorrectly displayed information:

  • Optimize your online product descriptions: Incorrect product selection is the number 1 cause of online order errors and returns. To assist your customers in making the correct selection, ensure you create detailed product descriptions. Include all the information your customer needs to know in an easy-to-understand format, including images, diagrams, and product specifications.
  • Leverage the power of your ERP: With an ERP-integrated e-commerce platform, display issues such as incorrect products, out-of-date pricing, and out-of-stock items simply do not happen. This is because such integration enables your web store to display the up-to-date, real-time product, pricing, and inventory information stored in your ERP. Find out more about the 46 benefits of integration.
  • Give customers online access to their account and order history: Having this information at hand 24/7 can help your customers make the correct product selection, purchase entry, shipping information selection, and account data entry. This is again something that can be easily done through ERP-integrated e-commerce, as it provides buyers with round-the-clock access to their account information stored in your ERP system via your web store.
  • Allow customers to make returns online: So even if your customer’s order was incorrect, the impact of the order error can be lessened through a more efficient returns process. Our research has found that 34% of buyers would be persuaded to choose a vendor if they were offered the ability to manage their returns online. And 59% prefer accessing returns information online, compared to just 12% preferring offline.

Common pitfalls in B2B e-commerce returns management

While B2B e-commerce returns management holds the potential to enhance customer satisfaction and operational efficiency, there are a couple of common pitfalls that businesses should watch out for. These include:

  • Inadequate returns policy: Failing to establish a clear and comprehensive returns policy can lead to confusion and frustration for buyers. An unclear policy might result in varied expectations, making the returns process more difficult.
  • Complex return initiation: If the process for initiating returns is complicated or hidden within your e-commerce platform, buyers might struggle to understand how to begin the process, leading to delays and dissatisfaction.
  • Manual authorization: Relying on manual authorization for returns can cause delays and inconsistencies. A lack of automation can result in longer processing times and dissatisfaction among buyers.
  • Disconnected systems: Operating with disconnected systems can cause data discrepancies, leading to confusion in tracking returns and processing refunds accurately. An integrated e-commerce solution can be especially useful here, since there is no risk of data siloes creating confusion in the returns process.
  • Slow refund processing: Delays in refund processing can erode trust and customer satisfaction. Slow refunds might lead buyers to perceive your returns process as inefficient.
  • Lack of customer support: Inadequate customer support for returns-related queries can frustrate buyers who are seeking assistance. Insufficient support may lead to dissatisfaction and negative reviews.

How to meet your buyers’ demand for (better) B2B e-commerce

Errors and returns within the e-commerce sphere are not isolated incidents; they ripple through entire organizations. With B2B buyers placing around 401 orders daily, even minor inefficiencies can lead to significant disruptions in profitability, efficiency, productivity, and sales.

The implications are multi-faceted, encompassing financial strains, operational complexities, strained relationships, reputational damage, and skewed data analysis. Detailed and accurate product descriptions can prevent incorrect product selections, while leveraging ERP integration ensures up-to-date information is displayed, minimizing order inaccuracies.

Granting customers access to their account and order history empowers them to make informed choices, and allowing online returns reduces the impact of errors. By focusing on the twin pillars of cost-savings and increased efficiency, businesses can ensure that their e-commerce operations not only cater to customer needs but also align with organizational objectives.

Looking for (more) advice on how to meet your B2B customers’ demands? Download the B2B Buyer Report to learn more about buyer behavior in the 21st century.

Buyers want to buy more online. 

Download our report to find out how to meet their needs.