Returns! How To Prevent Them

Mar 1, 2022 | Recycler to Recycler, Training & Education

By Debbie Hussey

During the pandemic I’m sure that we all have had the unsettling thoughts of “What am I going to do?” “Will I have shops to sell to?” “Can I buy cars for parts? “Will I be able to keep my employees?” What I have noticed is that we got busier during the pandemic. It was somewhat of a challenge. Shops cut their hours and when we did deliver, the parts were looked at and accepted outside of the shop’s doors. Drivers were not allowed inside the shops. 

The shortfall of manufacturers producing parts helped immensely. Some shops that have not bought a recycled used part or thought used parts were junk, now started calling us and realizing the parts we sell are the same parts that the dealers sell, except ours are used: same part, same manufacturer. Now that they are buying more recycled parts during the non-manufacturing of OEM new parts, we need to keep them as customers after production starts back up. Recyclers must sell quality, clean parts, delivered within a reasonable time.

So now that we have shops buying recycled, some of them double order the same part from multiple recyclers. This is problematic. Your driver gets to the shop to deliver the part and they say they already got it. First come, first keep. Here comes the return. Did the shop think of the time, effort and money invested by the recycler getting the part to the shop? Sometimes, sometimes not. These are the customers that have to be managed. Do you charge a delivery fee? Well, if you got there second with the part, you are not getting paid for the delivery because they are not accepting your part and it is coming back. How many times do you want to go to this customer and get the same result? It’s time to manage customers’ returns.

Businesses stay viable by having customers and we strive to make all customers happy. Unfortunately, you cannot make everybody happy all the time. This is when you get returns. A good return percentage is 10% or lower. You might think this is unattainable but if you continue reading, I can help you achieve this goal.

What processes lead up to a return sale?  1. Improperly inventoried parts. 2. Lack of communication 3. Bad quality or missing parts.

Inventory descriptions

This topic has been covered in so many articles they could be made into a book – each different, each with good points. Inventory is the job of your inventory specialist. They must have a good sense of damage and what parts sell and what does not. Other than the vehicle buyer, the inventory person is the most valuable person you have employed. Since sales are the direct result of inventory, he or she must know how to accurately describe the parts or parts damage.  Accurate wording with clear descriptions and options: 2D5 does not make sense to the internet buyer, whereas 2.0 dent center does on a door. Descriptions are all that the sales people have to work with when talking with customers.


The second reason for returns is a lack of communication between your sales person and the customer. The salesperson must have an accurate description of the part – one that they understand and can convey to the customer. They should get the VIN to decode and get the correct year, make, model and motor size of the vehicle. The sales person should ask which side, drivers or passengers, not right or left. Front or rear, halogen or HID, or any other pertinent information needed to find the right part that the customer needs. After finding the part requested the sales person should repeat the order with all specifics to the customer with the description of the part you are selling them. Don’t assume the answers, ask the question to get the correct answer. Communication prevents aggravation. Verify the shop name, address and who are you speaking with. You are the salesperson, you control the conversation, you need to ask the right question to get the right answers. If not, you will get returns. This is another reason that the inventory person is so important. Accurate descriptions make sales.

Parts Quality

After inventory is parts quality or damaged parts. Did the inventory person miss something when inventoried? We all make mistakes or miss something, but if he or she is good at their job, odds are he did not miss damage. Did it get damaged in dismantling? Is it possible that the dismantler broke it when harvesting it or it dropped and broke? At this point the dismantler should let the person who maintains the inventory know, so the part description gets changed, the part goes to repair or the part is deleted. It should never be put away as if nothing was wrong and the original description remains the same as undamaged. If not told immediately, you will find out about the damage when your salesperson has sold the part to the customer. Now the salesperson must call the customer to describe the damage on the nice part he worked hard to sell in the first place.

Another issue is missing parts. Do you use a scanner to put parts away? Do you write down locations and enter them manually in your YMS? Either way, it must be done correctly. You will know when a part is missing when you sell the part. Now you may have to scramble to get another part ready, or worse you have to call the customer and tell them you cannot supply the part. Periodically do random rack location audits, check to make sure the parts are where they are said to be and in the best location for that part, not the easiest location. From shoulders to knees, these are the locations that fill up the most in racks.

Quality Control

You would think that after all the hands and eyes that have been on those parts there will be no more surprises. Surprise! You still may have some. The last person to inspect the part is your quality control person and must double check that the correct side is pulled, that bumper tabs are not torn or missing, that headlamp mounts are all intact. All parts, I repeat all parts, must be cleaned before leaving your facility. Soap and water do not cost much and leaves a lasting impression on the customer. A clean part sells better than a dirty one and will cut down on the customers requesting clean up time.

There will always be returns. You can do everything right and the customer will just not want it. Some customers have unrealistic expectations or perhaps they never intended on keeping the part in the first place. It was ordered because the insurance company said to buy it from you but they wanted a new part, so they will find any reason to refuse it. You did all you could do to deliver a quality part. However, if you follow these simple procedures your return rate should come down and your trucks will leave full and return empty.   

Debbie Hussey has worked at Northlake Auto Recyclers in Hammond, IN since 1996. She started by doing inventory and then moved into the sales department. She is the manager of the sales staff, deals with inventory management, sales, computer IT, website, marketing and eBay. She can handle all aspects of the business but her focus is primarily on inventory and environmental compliance. With her work, Northlake Auto was the first in Indiana to be awarded clean yard GOLD level status by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), and Platinum Medal level with INCARES (Indiana Certified Automotive Recycling Exemplary Standards). Debbie also serves on the IARA (Indiana Auto Recyclers Association) board.

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