Returns Management Software for a UK startup
- Returns management SaaS
- Seamless integration with partner systems
- Consistent and engaging user experience
- Microservices-based architecture
Iflexion brought the startup’s idea to life, developing an award-winning returns management SaaS that now enjoys global recognition from the likes of Topshop and Gap.
Our customer is a UK-based startup that came up with an idea to create a B2B web application for end-to-end management of product returns as well as reselling of returned items. The solution was to help retailers cut their losses incurred by international shipping and overstock, while buyers would be able to get their refunds quicker and hassle-free. As an intermediate layer between retailers, resellers, and storage and shipment providers, this returns management SaaS would optimize and accelerate the entire product returns cycle.
Following one of our past client’s recommendation, the startup turned to Iflexion’s ecommerce developers to get this system up and running. This cooperation was to last for more than five years and position the startup as a leader in returns management technology.
Iflexion delivered a cloud-based solution made up of a buyer-facing returns portal and an admin area. The solution is connectable to ecommerce stores and marketplace platforms via APIs so that both retailers and their customers can manage returns seamlessly in a native branded environment. The returns management software is also integrated with the startup’s partner network of carriers, offering 300,000+ drop-off locations internationally, including gas stations.
The Returns Portal
Once integrated into a retailer’s online outlet, the returns portal offers the following features for buyers:
- To create a product return request by entering the order number and ZIP code, selecting the item(s), and marking the reason for return.
- To identify the warehouse to dispatch the item(s) to.
- To generate a downloadable mailing label with all the required details automatically filled-in.
- To choose the option of exchanging the item(s) instead of getting a refund.
The Admin Area
The admin area is designed as a separate website for retailers, resellers, and the startup’s own employees with the features differing according to each user role.
The startup’s admin team can:
- Connect new retailers and resellers to the system by registering their corporate accounts.
- Set resale prices for each retailer based on product categories, types, or brands.
- Assign rules for marking products at warehouses as intact, unpacked, used, or damaged.
- Set business rules for custom return policies specific to each seller, such as the number of days the buyer has to return an item, next steps, a refund sum, etc.
- Assign warehouses for accepting returns depending on the buyer’s location.
- View product databases, stock levels, and statuses of returned items for each retailer.
- Create FTP folders for exchanging data regarding returns/resales with retailers.
A registered retailer’s employees can:
- View the list of returned products, the products in storage per warehouse, and the established business rules.
- Change the steps of processing returned products according to their company’s policy.
A reseller’s employees can view available products and access sales data.
The White-label Version
To expand the startup’s business development potential, we converted the delivered SaaS into a white-label returns management system sold to other vendors. So far, several companies have already bought, implemented, and marketed the solution as their own.
Since the solution processes up to 20,000 returns daily, our architects chose Microsoft Azure as the underlying platform to ensure uninterrupted performance and scalability. The range of Azure products utilized on the project included Azure Virtual Machines, Microsoft Azure SQL Database, Microsoft Azure Web Sites, and Azure Application Insights.
We built the presentation layer with ASP.NET MVC, jQuery, Bootstrap, HTML5, and CSS/Less, and developed the business logic with C#.
At the same time, we created several custom APIs to go with the solution:
- The Outbound API for product delivery from retailers to buyers
- The Return API for returning products
- The Tracking API for tracking packages
- The Admin API to manage accounts of retailers, resellers, and warehouses
Data Privacy and Protection
For data protection, the configurations storing passwords to carriers’ APIs, certificates of access to services, and other assets are transferred to Azure Key Vault. In addition, Microsoft Azure SQL Database has a built-in transparent data encryption feature that enables data protection against malicious offline activity. Azure Cosmos DB offers encryption as well, so that all data, including attachments and backups, is encrypted.
On top of that, in case a buyer requests a return but does not send the product within a required period of time, the buyer’s personal data is deleted from the returns management system in order to avoid storing it longer than necessary according to the data privacy standards.
Our team developed a set of custom APIs to enable interaction with third-party systems, such as:
- 200+ warehousing systems to allow for full-cycle monitoring and information exchange regarding returned products, their expected arrival dates, outbound delivery tracking, and more.
- Resellers’ systems for exchanging data on available items, their prices, assigned categories, and resale details.
- Braintree and Adyen payment gateways that provide access to multiple payment systems that process refunds and consignment payments. Retailers which already have Braintree or Adyen accounts can integrate them with the returns management software to maintain direct cash flow.
- 200+ logistic systems for forwarding delivery orders to carrier services and tracking shipments.
- A notification system for sending delivery notifications and return policy updates to buyers via email or SMS.
To sustain the growing client base and enable scalability, we went for a microservices-based architecture. The microservices are based on Azure Service Fabric, which is not demanding in terms of development and can provide scalability with thousands of machines if needed.
There are the following microservices:
- Product service for working with retailers’ product catalogs.
- Outbound service for processing data regarding deliveries from retailers to buyers.
- Tracking service for updating order statuses based on the information from carriers and warehouses.
- Webhook service for sending notifications to retailers that subscribed for order status updates.
- Return service for returns management, also used by the plugins of ecommerce systems. For example, if a retailer uses Magento, they can install the plugin provided by our returns management system vendor, enter their credentials, specify all the details, and get the returns feature running on their website.
- Retailer orders service for importing and displaying orders from retailers in the solution.
- External carrier service for displaying available carriers in the system.
The project environments include those for quality assurance, demos, releases, and white-label solutions. We set up the infrastructure deployment automation, CI/CD, and resources optimization, ensuring data security and GDPR compliance.
The infrastructure is automated through a TeamCity script. When launched, the script creates resources after the necessary parameters are filled in. The resources include 3 websites, 1 Azure Service Fabric cluster, Microsoft Azure SQL Database, Azure Cosmos DB, Azure Storage, and additional services like load balancers. Then the publish profile is generated and the environment is deployed.
Quality Assurance and Support
Our team also provides L2 and L3 support on an ongoing basis, with issues escalated to us from the customer’s in-house team. Our engineers take on support tasks weekly, providing improvements and bug fixing.
Iflexion’s team was made up of 8 software engineers, 3 manual functional testers, 2 testing automation engineers, a DevOps specialist, a business analyst, and a project manager. The project methodology of choice was Kanban with on-demand releases (around once in 3 weeks) to better accommodate the rapidly changing requirements to the solution in progress.
As the project grew, the startup established their own development center yet they thought it necessary to keep Iflexion’s team due to our profound knowledge of the product and established trust. The customer’s product owner works with us to plan the scope and priorities. When needed, we consult the customer’s development center team, provide code review and testing, as well as process the feedback from the customer’s account managers and carriers.
The startup onboarded Iflexion at the very beginning of their working on a proprietary returns management product. We joined the project as their primary software engineering and testing force, and witnessed the product develop into a flagship solution in its field over the five years of our cooperation.
The solution has grown to become award-winning in multiple ecommerce and logistics categories, and now features Topshop, Sports Direct, Gap, and Selfridges among its users, processing a total of more than 20,000 returns daily.
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