22 Jun

How Retail Leaders Handle Customer Returns

Most any merchant would rather think about sales than a returns policy. True leaders, however, recognize that a well-designed, clearly stated ecommerce return policy can turn a random shopper into a lifelong customer.

In a survey by comScore and UPS, 63% of American consumers scrutinize an online merchant’s return policy before Purchase. Nearly 50% claimed they would do more business with retailers offering “hassle-free” return policies.

Online shopping is a totally different animal than Purchasing in person. There’s no interaction, either with the product or with a sale agent. There are also shipping costs to be considered–plus other unknowns–and customers have learned to be wary.

The Beauty of a Good Return Policy

Of course, preventing online returns in the first place is a merchant’s best strategy. Ironically, telling customers upfront what you’ll do if they don’t like their purchase can go a long way toward making them feel more comfortable buying from you.

Particularly in ecommerce, merchants who clearly and predominately promote their returns policy send a message to customers. Merchants who do so are promoting–even bragging about–their values. It’s an opportunity to tell shoppers “We stand by our products. We’re proud of our outstanding customer experience!”

How to Create a Great Return Policy

So what’s involved in creating a clear policy for returns, refunds, and exchanges? According to Lisa Chu, CEO of online children’s clothing retailer Black n Bianco, the first rule is the most important: “Make it simple.” That means no legal jargon, and no hedging your bets. Use plain English. Sprinkle in keywords. State your promise. And if you have a positive customer quote, this is a great place to use it.

Here are some other tips:

Define what you’re selling. Accurate images and descriptions are one of the best ways to avoid returns. If customers are expecting one thing but receive something dramatically different, they’ll be understandably upset.

Think about how you would explain a product in a showroom. Avoid overly flowery language. Be specific. Include pictures–or video, if practical–from multiple angles. Show comparative sizes. Make buying from your site as close to brick-and-mortar shopping as possible.

Be upfront. A clear, well-written policy is useless if no one sees it. Never make customers have to search your site for returns information. Post your policy (or at least an obvious link to it) on every page of your website.

That’s just for starters. You return info should be everywhere: On your receipts. In emails to customers. Even on your shipping boxes, if possible. The more places you post the information, the less likely a customer is to say “Oh, I didn’t realize …”

Be available. The internet has turned shopping into a 24/7 activity: your customer service should respond accordingly. If you can, provide live assistance around-the-clock by phone, email, and chat. Trained staff who can accurately address customers’ concerns is best, but even a live answering service is better than a recording.

Give directions up front. However your return or exchange program works, make sure customers know in advance. Do you require specific packaging? Is there a time-limit on refunds versus exchanges or store credit? Do you offer free shipping? Clearly present step-by-step instructions so there are no surprises for the customer.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to policies, one size doesn’t fit all. Every situation is unique, and you may need to experiment to find the best process for you. Your return policy isn’t set in stone; you can tweak yours to make it more effective (as long as you honor whatever policy was in place at the time of Purchase, of course).