Product Returns: How to turn a problem into a golden opportunity

Ben Dyer, CEO of SellerDeck on Product ReturnsBy Ben Dyer, CEO of ecommerce software specialist, SellerDeck

With the ecommerce silly season, or as people outside of retail call it “Christmas”, now behind us, most online retailers spend January and February dealing with the fall out.

It’s interesting listening to the support calls here at SellerDeck. We spend a lot of the first part of the year helping our customers to upgrade to our latest version and we hear a lot of fascinating stories! One of the hottest questions coming from the phone lines at the moment is the best way to handle product returns.

No retailer likes to receive purchases back, but making your process as painless for your customers as possible through a clear returns policy is a great opportunity to prove your customer service and improve loyalty.

1 – Be pragmatic

Christmas breaks all the rules when it comes to product sales, therefore as a good online retailer you should be willing to bend yours a little as well. Very often gifts are bought weeks before they are given to the recipient, so be a little flexible with your returns policy. There is nothing more frustrating than a retailer refusing to return or exchange a product because it’s outside of your allotted returns window.

2 – Make it obvious

I recently bought some clothes from a very large online retailer and typically they didn’t fit. It’s a common story as 40% of all clothes bought online end up being returned. However, try as I might the site I purchased from makes it almost impossible to find a returns policy. Not only does this infuriate the customer, it also creates additional work for the retailer. In my case I simply rang them and that cost them money as someone had to answer the call.

So, make sure your returns information is in a prominent location on your site, or even better, include the details of how to return goods with every order.

3 – Be clear and consistent

Another frustration is jargon and/or complex terminology. Some of returns policies I’ve read over the years require at least a degree in law, it’s crazy. Obviously the level of detail you need depends on what you’re selling, but the least you can do is provide a clear set of steps in plain English to make it easy.

5 – Use returns as a marketing tool

Any interaction with a customer should be viewed as a marketing opportunity, yes even returns. When including returns information with the goods, you can also encourage exchanges over refunds.

One company I deal with replaced its rather draconian returns policy with a simple card that read:

“If there is a problem with this product, or you want to swap, just call us.”

This simple act, while a little labour intensive, gave this particular business the opportunity to interact with the customer before the goods were returned. Thanks to some smart incentives this resulted in a 40% reduction in items being sent back.

In the very worst case when a return was absolutely necessary the company arranged everything; this level of customer service breeds loyalty, and loyalty turns into more sales.

Product returns are unfortunately a necessary evil for the online retailer. However with a little imagination, and most importantly, a lot of transparency, you can turn this problem into a golden opportunity.

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