Returns. Often a sticking point for small companies that can’t really afford to lose money on processing returns or taking merchandise back - especially if you can’t sell it again. But returns are an important part of any retailer, including online stores.
Why have a return policy that makes your customers happy?
Your returns policy is part of a customer’s purchasing decision; especially when it comes to items that come in various sizes that normally someone would try on. An easy returns policy is important for building a good relationship with your customer. If returns are a huge hassle, your customer is less likely to shop with you again. Don’t think that because a customer is returning one item, they won’t be back. There have been plenty of times that I have returned items for stores I frequently shop in, and an easy return makes me more likely to keep coming back.
Making clear returns policies
Avoid jargon and legalese
A returns policy that’s friendly and minimises hassles also shows that you stand behind your products. Allowing customers to return products says “I know this product is great, but maybe it didn’t work for you”. Not allowing customers to return products says “We’re trying to get our products off the shelves. Not what you wanted? Not our fault. Too bad.” For example, take a look at Spreadshirt’s friendly return policy. The way they’ve phrased it shows that returns are something they expect and want to help you out with.
Spreadshirt is an example of a company that makes their return policy clear and approachable. Anyone can read it and understand what it means. Compare that with Sports Direct, which has a pretty scary-looking returns policy.
Although the Sports Direct returns policy may deter returns more, it’s not great for customer happiness - and could therefore also deter purchases.
Put it front and centre
You should make your returns policy easy to find for anyone looking for it. Make sure to index it in your website map so that someone searching on your site can pull it up. Also refer to it on your product pages, checkout pages, and FAQ.
Explain costs and time
Your returns policy should explain how long the process takes, how much it will cost (and to whom), and how refunds are enacted for different items. Take a look at Luna & Curious’ returns policy. It clearly explains what to do if you want to return an item, who is responsible for shipping, and what the deal is with exchanges, sale items and damaged goods.
Clarify which items count and which don’t
It’s completely normal to have exceptions to what you’ll accept as a return. Items purchased as sale items, ones that you’re unable to resell, or items that were purchased a long time ago are all normal to exclude from returns - just be upfront about it.
Choose how you’ll refund returns
You can decide whether you’ll give full cash refunds, partial refunds, store credit or exchanges as part of your returns policies - and if that will differ depending on the country you’re shipping to or the items being returned. Offering store credit or exchanges is a way to minimise how much of your merchandise value you’re losing out on. If you have a brick-and-mortar store, consider allowing customers to return in-person. Something else might catch their eye, and they’ll end up making up for the cost of the merchandise lost.
If your customer bought a working product and is sending it back with wear and tear that makes it unsellable, you don’t have to accept it. Be sure to include the fact that you’ll inspect returns and that some items might not qualify for a refund if they’re damaged.
Careful though; if your customer is returning an item because they think you damaged it or it was damaged during shipping, they’ll be majorly unhappy if you take the item back and don’t replace it. Arguing with customers over returns can be one of the easiest ways to lose them forever.
Product videos and descriptions
A major reason customers return products is because they don’t really understand how it works, or have different expectations for what it can and can’t do. Making product videos and writing descriptions that are as clear as possible can help. Bonus tip: use User-Generated Content to make product videos for extra social proof about their value for other customers.
Answer common questions
Similarly, having a Q and A section can help answer common questions and prevent people from misunderstanding your product. You can have a Frequently Asked Questions section, a Help Portal, or a user-generated question and answer forum for your products. It could also be helpful to have size charts or other specifications for each product to help people decide which variant to get.
Be proactive about your returns policy
If your customer was at a sales till, your clerk would say “you can return these in the next 30 days if you have a receipt” or “just so you know, sale items cannot be returned”. A simple sentence like that, right before a purchase is made, can help keep your customers informed about your returns policy. When they’re on your online store, you can do the same with a popup, or another prominent version of your returns policy, right before a purchase is made.
Ship quickly the first time around
Many people shop online for gifts or for particular events. If an item arrives too late, they might not want it anymore and send it back. Keep this in mind when you’re developing your general shipping policies.
When shoppers return items, try to collect feedback about why they’re returning items. If you’re finding common themes, such as issues with the quality, design or packaging, you can address them directly within your product development.
Think about shipping and other costs
Shipping providers and return labels
Many stores require their customers take on the expense of shipping a return, but some offer prepaid labels. You can use a service with Shopify, such as Return Magic which lets your customers generate labels. Alternatively, ShippingEasy lets you send a returns label to everyone, which you only pay for if it’s used.
Free shipping? Return fees?
Although many retailers now offer free return shipping, it’s not uncommon to see a return processing fee which can be included by offering a partial refund instead of a full refund. Remember to be clear about what (if any) fees a customer pays. Including a return fee can be an incentive for the customer to keep the product instead of returning it, but can also be seen negatively by the customer.
Don’t forget to keep your customers informed
You should try automating as much as possible, including shipping label generation and confirmation emails. Let your customer know when you’ve received their returned item, when it’s been processed, and when they’ll get their money back.
Hey, check our fav returns app out
Return Magic is an awesome app that can help you make returns easier for you and your customer by creating a returns portal straight onto your site, generating labels, and letting you control how your returns go from one place. It integrates into your Shopify store, too.
Elkfox is here to help you develop your online business, in whatever way you need. We can help you design a returns strategy that helps you keep more of your profit while being great for your customers. Get in touch with us.