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Returns

This guide will go through what Solidus offers to manage the return of purchased items: the compensation of their cost in different ways or the exchange with other products.

Sometimes things don't go as expected during an online transaction. Items can get damaged in their way, or the wrong product is shipped by error. Other times, companies have flexible return policies to remove friction in the payment step. In any case, e-commerce stores need a process to monitor returns and reliably support customers and administrators.

RMA: return authorizations

The journey of a return usually begins with the buyer asking for it, whether via form or email. At that moment, the customer service can create an RMA (Return Merchandise Authorization) with a unique number that can be used as a reference for any further communication.

In Solidus, an RMA is represented by the Spree::ReturnAuthorization model. It contains a number and other information like the stock location where items should be delivered or a memo for a free-text description.

A Spree::ReturnAuthorization has an authorized state on creation, but it can be canceled if desired. We must note that, at this point, we're still dealing with user requests, not actual returns. A store can authorize a request and keep processing it, regardless of its final result (e.g., not ending up accepting a return), or it can cancel it for being invalid and not deserving further consideration.

Return items

An RMA must reference one or more of the products a customer purchased. For instance, a user bought five cups, but one of them arrived damaged. Depending on the store policy, they might ask for a reimbursement or an exchange for another cup. At a later stage, the request will be approved, edited or denied.

In Solidus, each return item is represented through a Spree::ReturnItem record. Notice that a Spree::ReturnItem instance is associated with a Spree::InventoryUnit. That's the most concrete level of product identification in orders; i.e., orders can have several line items for different variants, and each line item may contain one or more. The inventory unit maps one to one to a physical (or digital, for what it's worth) object, such as a broken cup.

A Spree::ReturnItem contains information about the requested reimbursement amount and how it should be processed (e.g., refund or store credit) or another unit with which the store should replace it.

Finally, two status fields govern the lifecycle of an item to return:

  • The acceptance status controls the eligibility of the return per-se. Initially pending, it should end up accepted in case of going forward.
  • The reception status marks whether the store has already received the returned package. In a standard scenario, it should transition from awaiting to received.

Customer returns

Finally, after the return authorization has moved forward, it'll materialize in a customer return. At that point, a store will already have the returned items back. It might be that the customer support department rejected some of the requests or accepted all of them.

In Solidus, that's represented by a Spree::CustomerReturn record. Similar to RMAs, it's a simple model. It only contains an identification number and a stock location that is a final override of the RMA's proposal. Customer returns are flexible and not tied to a single return authorization. Because of that, Spree::ReturnItem belongs not only to Spree::ReturnAuthorization but also to Spree::CustomerReturn.

Reimbursements

The final step is fulfilling the store obligations and performing the agreed reimbursement or exchange. The store will need another shipment with the new items in the latter case.

Spree::Reimbursement takes care of wrapping everything up. It's associated with a Spree::CustomerReturn, but the system is flexible enough so that more than one can be created until all returned items have been processed.

Typically, administrators can edit the returned item details, like the amount to refund, the article to use as a substitute, or if it should be marked as resellable. The system will also take care of creating a new shipment if needed. In the end, a new reimbursement record will be created with a state of either reimbursed or errored.

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