How to Gain a Competitive Edge with a Better Holiday Returns Policy
The holiday shopping season is here and hopefully lots of goods are flying out of your inventory. But the chances are that before New Year’s some of them will be heading back your way.
Any retail business, whether it operates online, offline or a combination of both, wants to be known for the high quality and variety of the products they offer. However, even the most exceptional of products can sometimes turn out to be the wrong size, wrong color, or wrong something, and the consumer – whether they were the original purchaser or a gift recipient (the holiday gifting season is coming up of course) needs to send an item back.
This is where a retail company’s return policy comes into play, and the ease and convenience of returning items can seriously influence whether a customer shops with you again or moves on to a competitor the next time.
A study on retail return policies conducted by the University of Texas-Dallas found that policies that provide more time for returns and refund a larger percentage of the original cost are the most effective in increasing overall sales. Although, we have to say, many retail business owners probably did not actually need a formal study to tell them that.
So what kind of retail return policy is best? Here are some tips for creating a fair for all return policy that satisfies your customers and keeps them coming back and yet still protects your business and its bottom line.
Create – and Prominently Display – an Easy to Understand Return Policy
When potential customers read your return policy, there should be no question in their mind as to what can and cannot be sent back and when they can do so. Be clear about the types of items that are accepted, the condition they must be in, and what (if any) time frame they must be returned within. You should also be clear about whether you offer money-back refunds or store credit.
Once this policy is written, ensure that it is easy to find on your website and that there is an option to speak/communicate with a CS rep before a consumer makes a purchase if there is an issue they don’t quite understand.
Be As Generous as You Can with Your Return Window
Part of the great appeal for many consumers of buying goods online is the convenience of the process, so don’t turn that experience into a headache by giving customers a very tight deadline for sending back unwanted items. The same goes for brick-and-mortar stores — it might be difficult for shoppers to make a trip back very quickly.
Of course, it’s not always realistic for small businesses to offer an unlimited amount of time to return items, but be as flexible as you can, and check your competitors’ return policies to offer a more appealing time frame. That one simple difference may be the very thing that influences a consumer’s choice between you and a similar business.
Include a Preprinted Return Label in Packages
Make returning items even easier for your customers by shipping their orders with an adhesive return label and clear instructions as to how they should send back items should they need to. If you have brick-and-mortar locations and sell goods online, offer customers the option of returning the items to the store instead of shipping them back for the full ‘omnichannel’ shopping experience that so many of them are looking for today.
Make Refunds Quicker and Easier
The art of the refund has evolved significantly over time. Return policies for brick-and-mortar stores can differ depending on the rules and regulations that govern their area.
That is not the case with an eCommerce store.
Refund procedures are significantly more flexible because internet businesses can operate and serve practically any geographic location. Many merchants see this as a good thing, and they’re taking advantage of it to speed refunds across the board.
To stay competitive, many eCommerce businesses have shifted to quick and painless policies. Retailers that execute payment returns within 10 business days are now commonplace. Customers like not just getting their money returned fast, but also having a terrific overall returns experience, which is likely to keep them coming back.
If handled carefully and thoughtfully, the process of refunding customers can also still be beneficial to your company’s bottom line. According to many studies, over half of shoppers (45%) who go online to return an item end up making another purchase while they’re there.
Solicit – and Listen to – Some Customer Feedback
What is the very best way to find out how customers feel about your return policy? Ask them. After customers complete a return, send them a short survey to find out what they did and did not like about the process and what you could have done better. Take their comments to heart and use them to inform future return policy changes.