The Curious Case of Return Shipping Charges

What do you mean by return?

I do not mean, undelivered shipments, they are a different case altogether. I only mean shipments returned by buyers after accepting delivery.

Who is liable to pay return shipping charges?

Depends on case to case basis.

Who are the parties involved?

Seller, Marketplace, Buyer & Carrier

As a general rule of thumb, seller should be liable to cover return shipping charges if the product is damaged/different/defective than the listed one, even a very small difference makes the seller liable to cover return shipping charges otherwise buyer or marketplace should cover it just because they don’t “like” the product or “changed their mind”.

Other side of the coin would be to argue that its the cost of doing business i.e. bearing return charges. That argument should be understandable by most online sellers but it does not mean that marketplaces choose to abuse it and shove it down sellers throats. That phrase is in bold just because its funny, no relevance.

Most marketplaces have this “seller protection policy” in place which they do honor, but filing a proper claim and fighting for it maybe required to get that protection. Its like dealing with a ‘sarkari office’, primary protection of marketplaces against seller protection claims is that the claim is not proper, they will try to block or shoot down your claim in whichever way they can but then its on you to keep doing followup and keeping pointing things back to them if you know you are well within your rights and following their commandments to file the claim. Inquilab Zindabad!

As a broker, its on marketplaces to promote a valid return practice or information to their buyers, but they are also building the market (in India) currently, so can’t blame them completely. If marketplace was not there, a seller’s shop would not be there, if they don’t do it, order volume will go down gradually over time. So, everybody should live in peace and share return costs and hope that one day we will see valid return practices where buyers may also have to pay for return shipping. “What!!??!! Huh!!??!! What !!??!! Come Again? Did you really just say that? *Panic Everywhere*”

Moving On…

First let me clear carrier’s role and put them aside for the purpose of this rant session. They should be liable for damage to/of shipments but I don’t think any carrier these days is taking that responsibility, what they generally say now (in case of e-commerce shipments) is that seller is liable for damage due to bad or poor packing. But this also has a lot of loopholes, like if buyer says they got damaged item, carrier can reply that seller must have given damaged item only. Who is lying? Answer: No way to know. Buyer may have used it one day and broken it, seller may not have checked its broken or it may have been broken in transit by carrier which happens mostly due to poor packaging. So, now the carriers only take responsibility of lost shipments, for that also you will have to file claims and this and that and do 10 follow-ups. Will somebody open a service company which provides some actual, quality and decent service, already?

So, what actually happens (this is to the best of my knowledge as per current practices):

Paytm/Snapdeal/Flipkart: They do not charge any return fees to sellers and bear it themselves because of their easy (also read indiscriminate) return policies for buyers. They also offer seller protection against used/damaged goods which were returned, but please bear in mind that you have to meet everybody’s guidelines and file claims within proper timelines and provide valid proofs. Paytm & Snapdeal have an option where sellers can do fulfillment themselves but I do not have any knowledge of those mysterious programs so will not comment on their return policies. Snapdeal calls it Vendor Self Ship and Paytm calls it NLMD (Non Last Mile Delivery), guess they could have also called it GLSY (Get Lost & Ship Yourself).

*Snapdeal Seller Protection Claim hack* Submit a picture of your remarks like damage/different which you mentioned on the delivery guy’s run sheet (as per policy you are required to do that, Paytm also followed the suite). Regardless of damage/different, write on his sheet damage/different and keep a picture of it, so you can attach it with product pictures in case its actually damaged. Sometimes they will also say, buyer got it damaged only, I don’t know yet how to fight this one. Who is lying? Answer: No way to know.

First time I filed a claim and they (snapdeal) asked me for the proof that I mentioned these remarks, I was like What? Why would I take a picture of my remarks on DRS? Some would say its a reasonable, logical question. But apparently not, not in SD’s case. I was like show me, where its written in the guidelines and they were like no sir everybody does, you also have to do it or we cannot give damage claim. I was laughing my guts and crying my eyes all out at the same time. They will also not give you the claim on 7th day citing that you should have submitted within 7 days and they have a treasure trove of weird and funny reasons to deny any protection to you even after you pay them the “hafta” on a monthly basis. Ok, bad joke.

ShopClues: They sometimes let sellers authorize returns, sometimes they do it themselves, I am not very sure whats the practice exactly. But in all cases they will charge for return shipping, whether seller at fault or not, you can technically raise claim for unreasonable return chipping charges when product is not defective/damaged/different but I doubt it will be approved.

Problem is you need 1 resource dedicated to this task itself of checking and submitting and following up on claims.

eBay: The underdog runs a tight ship, buyers claims are not easily approved, only after seller acknowledges or if they actually see seller’s fault and buyer provides a return shipment proof. To buyer they provide some extra amount coupon to shop on eBay to cover their return shipping charge and do not charge sellers generally. If they provide buyer with a “eBay Powered Return” then they might charge your seller account. Seller protection is also provided reasonably without any “paperwork”. But if they do approve a claim unreasonably (mostly Refund Requests for non-delivery which are different than claims) and you are at loss, no matter what you do, how much you fight or argue, it will not be reversed, they will become like a faceless bot, I have not seen any success cases yet. You have to then beg the buyer to pay, which in some cases they will and in some they won’t. Here the fact in play is that most people are inherently good :p

Amazon: The soon to be largest e-commerce player in India (I will explain why later) leaves this part to your (the sellers) imagination and capabilities. For ATS (Easyship) and FBA (Fulfilled By Amazon) orders they will not charge any return shipment fee. The main problem area is seller fulfilled orders or in some cases even Easyship orders which buyers have to self ship. Amazon help states that it will be as per individual sellers return policies but that’s just a hollow promise (a teardrop rolls down my cheek).

Who is responsible for return shipping charges? Amazon Customer Care freely & openly tells customers that seller will pay return charges, regardless of seller’s return policy, then they also send sellers a message on behalf of buyers to do the same, best you ignore them. Then if you will raise a ticket with seller support regarding this, they will take so much time “anal-yze” your case that you will end up refunding yourself before it turns into an A-Z claim which is buyer’s nuclear warhead. Below is the most beautiful page on this topic that you will never find:

So best is you make a reasonable return shipping charge coverage policy as per rule of thumb above, show some courtesy to buyer if you are at fault and look at the bigger picture (mainly of avoiding negatives and claims) AND very important to communicate to buyer that upto what amount you will cover return shipping charge as they may send it from a very costly service and expect reimbursement of Rs. 750/- return shipping charge for an order totalling Rs. 728/- So a total refund of Rs. 1478/- (actual case) and return was because they did not like the product.

All parties involved must NOT choose to abuse, for a greener ($$$) tomorrow.


Gaming the Amazon System Experiment

Been selling on Amazon for a while and recently discovered a way that a seller can be cheated by a buyer (intentionally or unintentionally) but this is only if seller’s operations are not tight or efficient enough to detect this. I have not personally tested this but it may prove to be a valid hypothesis.

  1. Place 2 different orders for a single item/product, make sure the item is not Amazon Fulfilled and COD eligible so that it is delivered by ATS/Easyship only, it may or may not work for seller fulfilled orders but chances with ATS are higher.
  2. Pay for both orders and accept the items.
  3. Now raise a return request for one of the orders.
  4. When Amazon person comes for reverse pickup, handover the other parcel (for which return request is not raised)
  5. Now when the return is delivered to seller, most times amazon system or support (if seller is enrolled in runaway program) will refund you for the order for which you created a return request.
  6. When seller processes the refund they will refund for the parcel they have received.

Let me know the result if any of you decide to test this or feel free to poke holes in it :p

Official Ninja Guide To Selling Online Part 2 of X: I have everything I need to sell online, what now?

Now we will look at different ways to sell online. It is important to classify various channels of selling online, as each has different requirement in terms of operations and investment.

Since the advent of e-commerce there have always been two avenues of selling online:

Building own website with payment gateway and all the fancy blingy stuff or what I like to call a standalone e-commerce website.

Marketplace where many sellers like yourself are selling their wares and a common party which is the marketplace entity like eBay or Amazon is handling the technology to enable all this and other major parts like getting buyers for you, also logistics in some cases.

For building a standalone website you need some more investment apart from your product inventory, you need to have an inclination to be able to learn and do a little techie geeky stuff (it does not involve any programming or coding) or you need to outsource it to an IT development company.

Tip: DO IT YOURSELF using CloudCarts, its very very easy or if you are a boss kind of a person with an already running business ask someone on your team to do it or get it done from a freelancer but DO NOT outsource. I strongly discourage you from doing that.

Ways to build a standalone website:

  • Conventional way has been to buy a domain name, rent a shared server (bluehost maybe, i like it), deploy a shopping cart script like opencart or hottest these days is Magento, install/enable some plugins to add payment gateway and make transaction facility functional, choose a theme of your liking, get some graphics designed for banner and stuff, add products and images etc and start marketing your very own Online Shopping Website! If you need custom functionalities this is where you will need to rent a developer to make changes to the code.
  • CloudCarts – These are Software platforms which offer a turnkey solution to start selling online via your own e-commerce site. You simply sign up and pay for the plan which suits your requirements, login to your setup panel and simply add products, select theme and you are ready to go. Its as easy as using your email. For some smaller technicalities these companies will provide you full support and step by step guides for how to use their panel for setup and also how to make the website live and enable payment gateway (which is also readily available on these platforms). There are a lot many of these platforms available today but its important to choose carefully as its a service more than the product itself. Major ones are Shopify which comes with global experience and reach, Zepo and Kartrocket.

Cost comparison: When starting a business, fee of  Rs. 24,000/- a year (roughly average price of these platforms) may seem little steep but you will end up spending way more on custom development. If you scale exponentially it may prove difficult to work with a cloud cart which is their primary drawback. Then you should work towards moving to custom deployment when volumes are sustainable. When you start getting sales Rs. 2000/- per month will seem to be cheap for the ready solution these platforms are offering.

Let’s cover marketplaces in the next post.

Official Ninja Guide To Selling Online Part 1 of X: Why, What, When, Where.

  1. I don’t know how to write a guide.
  2. There is nothing official about it, just click-bait.
  3. Though most things below apply globally but I am talking about India market primarily.

As Global & Indian e-commerce industries evolve, scope of terms like “online shopping” and “e-commerce website” has also evolved (in terms of business models). We will not cover “digital goods”, everything we talk about involves physical goods, even if its cow dung.

We start by answering some questions like Why, What, When, Where.

Why sell online?

Firstly, biggest factor is market size, you can choose to ship stuff to entire city, state, country or even the entire world.

Secondly, general consensus is that costs tend to lean towards lower side, for example warehousing is cheaper than retail spacing, but I strongly disagree with this consensus. I think it all depends on product category, product value & on scale of operations.

Lets examine major cost heads:

  • Shop/Office/Warehouse: Retail space at a primary location or even a non primary one costs way more than a warehouse within which a small back-office can be setup. Difference in rental and electricity, maintenance, interiors and lot of other things.
  • Employees: Generally physical retail needs more manpower than online retail, like sales people who have to be presentable and well-spoken are not required for online retail. Operations managers, hr, finance etc. requirements would be roughly the same again depending on scale. To start, one person can easily do it all. Its hard work but doable.
  • Technology & Equipment: Tech and Equipment costs rise considerably. Physical retail is not as tech intensive, mainly you just need a POS (point of sale and maybe a back office computer for stock-keeping and accounts), for online retail you may have to rent some platforms, automation systems, pay some fees to some sites and service providers, and have multiple computer systems and operators and you grow along with packaging people who don’t need to be highly skilled but educated to a level nonetheless.

So while some costs go down, some expenses increase as well, its all about product category, value/segment and again scale of operations.

Thirdly, everybody else is doing it so it kind of becomes necessary to evolve with the market and keep up the competitive spirit for everyone. If everybody is buying diapers online (which makes a lot of sense, but selling them doesn’t make a lot of sense) then a brand which is prohibiting online sales (for some weird reason which I can’t even think) or retailer who does not start selling online because they do not have the know-how, they will just get left behind eventually or not live upto the full potential of their sales.

What can you sell online: I am not Siri but Home & Kitchen is a high growth category in India right now for example but it can be ANYTHING except weapons and drugs and you know illegal stuff in general.

What do you need to start selling online:

  • Stuff to sell
  • A small room where you can operate from and store the stuff too.
  • A computer & A mobile (so that you can call support helplines)
  • Decent internet connection
  • Basic knowledge of accounting but mostly common sense.
  • Stuff like tape, courier bags, bubble wrap etc. to pack stuff after orders start rolling in.
  • TIN/VAT/CST/Sales Tax number (yes its a single number and all of them are the same thing), you can start without it as there are certain exemptions in place by various VAT departments for some categories and turnover in general but better you start with it if you are not just “trying” to sell online but setting up a proper business.

When should you start selling online: Yesterday.

Where should you start selling online: Anywhere, but I strongly recommend eBay to start with, will explain why later.


Hello world! Introductory Ramble.

Hello World, again! I couldn’t think how else to start. And I had to google the spelling of introductory (blame mobile language) for the title. Firstly, let’s talk about the elephant on the page, I know some of you may find the domain to be varying degrees of lame but it looks pretty cool to me, obviously :p

Most of you will read this post in future after one or two future posts that you have already read by this point wouldn’t have wasted your time completely. I would take comments on this post or future posts as a hint to continue writing.

Disclaimer: You may find some attempts at humor distasteful but please bear with me. You may also find some nested sentences (sentence within a sentence) so you may face serious continuity problems while reading the posts if you do not concentrate. Also, I am not an activist/fundamentalist as some posts may indicate, they are solely based on ‘thought experiments’ and following logic.

What I do: I am a techie at heart in YouStory’s words, webmaster since class 10, never could learn coding or made an effort to, but now I would like to lobby to make it a part of school curriculum, instead of a foreign language like German or French , a practice which is rampant in schools today. (This is what is rambling in case you are wondering, in these many lines I should have finished What I do)

So, What I do: In college I pretty much did nothing, just what everybody does, even less so. In 6th semester (early 2012) I started my first proper venture with my brother, which is now, I can safely say, India’s one of the biggest Cashback & Coupons website. Two and half years after we started which is by the time we had built a responsible and excellent team, I took my first trip out of Delhi so I do not believe in work life balance, work is life, life is work for a start-up Co-Founder is my philosophy, other one is good too but it just takes more time to get me from A to B. Since, I have been involved with establishing at least 2 other start-ups and working on 2 more.

I am feeling guilty of rambling too much as I write each word now, so more about what I do can be covered in future posts, also you can simply find me on LinkedIn, don’t forget to connect.

And with this blog I will attempt to explore & cover following areas:

  • Little bit of my story to better explain what I have drawn from those experiences.
  • Make easier for you, the challenges I have faced setting up my start-ups.
  • Suggest things to faceless corporations (write good & bad reviews as per experience) in Indian Internet space or sometimes other spaces that may or may not help them but will surely help majority of customers (especially me) which will ultimately help the corps.
  • Share tech and operational knowledge, about seller panels of marketplaces and various other technologies (some things you can google but will not find even with your ninja like searching skills, because they don’t exist), like things you must have already attempted to ask people associated with that co. 1-2million times, but they refused to understand what you want.
  • Point out operational inefficiencies and challenges surrounding e-industry in India, that need to be solved.
  • Basically, this blog is mostly about Feedback and venting “how I would have could have done it”. Also, life philosophies and some other stuff.