Offline stores offer return policies, and online stores should be no different. In fact, it’s even more necessary in eCommerce. Think about it logically. In the real world, customers can try things on for size, if you will. But the digital environment requires a bit of a leap of faith for many purchases, and customers can be very unsure — what if those skinny jeans cut off blood supply to your feet? What if that lamp looks all wrong in that corner? The list goes on! A solid eCommerce returns policy can be that make or break element that inspires the confidence to get cautious consumers over the line.
Indeed, according to a survey by comScore and UPS, 63% of American consumers check return policies before buying, and 48% would shop more with retailers that offer hassle-free returns.
But this goes beyond individual sales. A solid eCommerce returns policy can create a customer for life, as it shows a commitment to customer service excellence that really builds loyalty.
Furthermore, it gives brands and retailers a real chance to shine. Just because a customer is unhappy with their purchase for some reason doesn’t mean it all has to end in tears. Handling a return well will ensure continued patronage, and can also give you the edge over your competitors.
So, if you don’t already have a leading eCommerce returns policy in place, now is the time to do so. And for those who do, there’s always room to improve.
To help you, we’ve put together 12 steps to use as your guiding light. Ready? Let’s go!
1. Avoid The Return In The First Place
This one’s obvious, but still needs mention. The happier a customer is with your product, the less likely they are to return it. So, do everything in your power to minimize chances of return. Measures you can take here include providing accurate product descriptions and imagery so the customer is as clear as possible on what they’re buying. Remember they don’t have the in-store experience to get a tangible feel for your products, so always endeavor to recreate the bricks-and-mortar experience online as much as possible.
2. Check A Return Is Even Necessary
Again this may be obvious, but before you offer a return on a damaged or faulty product, be sure it’s actually damaged or faulty first. Does the product require batteries, for example? If so, have they been inserted properly? If the product needs assembly, have the instructions been followed to the letter? And so on. Sometimes the item may not even be damaged or faulty, and a quick check list addressing these sort of questions can obviate the need for a return at all.
3. Make It Obvious
Ensure your policy is easy to find. You don’t have to limit it to one spot either. You can post it on your website, print it on receipts, include it in confirmation emails, etc. The idea here is to give your customers every opportunity to acquaint themselves with it, and not make them have to go looking for it.
4. Mind Your Language!
How you phrase your policy is extremely important. Don’t use complicated legal jargon customers need a law degree to understand. Keep it nice and simple and easy to follow. Avoid terms like ‘you must’, ‘under any circumstance’ or ‘we are not responsible for’. Language like this is off-putting and suggests responsibility for the issue in question lies with the customer. Not good. You can write your return in your brand voice too. This helps to keep things consistent and friendly.
5. Offer Free Shipping On Returns
This is always advisable, where your eCommerce business can afford it. Why? Well, we’ll let the numbers do the talking. A study featured in the Journal of Marketing found customers who received free shipping on returns increased their purchases over the next two years from 58% to 357%, and a ShopRunner/Harris Interactive study found that 81% of shoppers are less likely to make additional purchases on websites that charge for return shipping. If the customer pays for return shipping or any other part of the returns process, make that as clear as crystal on your policy. Nothing like hidden costs to annoy customers.
6. Define The Time Frame
It’s really important to let customers know how long they have to make a return. The time frame’s entirely up to you. It could be 30 days, 60 days, 90 days or otherwise. The main thing here is to be absolutely clear on it.
7. What Do You Offer On Return?
State what the customer gets when a return is made, be that an exchange, a full refund, or store credit. Again, it’s up to you what to offer here, and it’s also dependent on the nature of the product and return. You don’t have to give a full refund. If the item is damaged or malfunctioning though, you should do your best to exchange the item at no cost or hassle to the customer. Failing that, a full refund is best.
8. Speaking Of Hassle…
Make the return procedure as hassle-free as possible for the customer. In the same comScore and UPS survey we mentioned earlier, 48% of customers prefer retailers offering hassle-free returns. Furthermore, according to CEB (now Gartner), 96% of customers reporting high-effort purchasing experiences don’t become repeat purchasers, compared with only 9% of those with low-effort experiences. This applies across the entire customer lifecycle, and returns are no exception.
9. Set Expectations
Outline clearly all the terms and conditions of your policy so your customer isn’t in for any unwelcome surprises. If returns take an average of four weeks to process, for example, then say so, and say so clearly.
10. Keep Customers Informed
Keep customers abreast of the status of their return. Inform them on the likes of when their item has arrived back to you, when the refund has been processed, and/or the replacement sent out. Provide tracking numbers where necessary.
11. Honesty Is The Best Policy
Mistakes happen. The main thing is to be honest with your customer in the event you slip up. So if a return is because of an error on your part, then fess up and make it right. And if that means making exceptions to your standard return policy, then so be it.
12. Inform Your Staff
Finally, make sure all your staff are fully trained up on your return policy so they can activate it quickly and efficiently. You can streamline this process by having one view of your costumer from order to delivery to returns so employees can easily access this information in real-time.
Now you have all you need to devise an A+ returns policy for your online business, contact our team today to learn how ChannelSight Buy Now technology can take your consumer experience one step further and give your brand cross channel performance insights to deliver customer service excellence along the entire consumer path to purchase.
Global Brand Partner Consultant