In an ideal situation, every customer who buys a product through your online store would be happy with their purchase, and you wouldn’t have to worry about arranging for returns. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how good your products or customer service are. Eventually, someone will be dissatisfied, and you’ll need good return policies in place to make things better. In fact, about eight percent of retail purchases are eventually returned to the store, amounting to nearly $260 billion of returns per year.
But return policies are more than just a necessary staple for your business to continue operations. If you want to run a successful business, your return policy is a valuable opportunity to build customer trust — and maximize customer satisfaction.
Creating return policies for trust and customer satisfaction
Everything starts with the core tenets of your return policy. This is your chance to prove to your customers how much you value them, and put the fundamentals in place to ensure your policy runs smoothly. Here are a few key considerations you’ll need to bear in mind:
Understand the different types of returns
You can choose to treat all returns equally, but you should know that there are very different motivations for initiating a return. For example, someone might return an item because it’s malfunctioning or defective; these items should always be accepted as a return. Someone else might return an item because they changed their mind about buying it; this is often deemed less acceptable. Set your own standards, but make sure you’re consistent with them.
Set a time limit
Even the most generous return policies have some kind of time limit; this is to prevent returns for items that have been misused or mishandled and to set a kind of statute of limitations on your products. Common time limits include 30 days, 60 days and 90 days.
Consider multiple forms of compensation
You can also compensate your customers in different ways, depending on your goals. Exchanging one product for another is a common offer, but you can also give your customers cash or store credit. If you find yourself divided on what to offer, take a look at major retailers and your competitors’ return policies for inspiration.
Advertising return policies
If you want to establish more customer trust, you’ll need to make sure your policy is advertised and easy to understand. Otherwise, your customers might not even know it exists.
Use simple, concise language to explain your return policy
When writing your return policy for customers, make sure you use simple, straightforward language. There’s no need to make this technically complex or include legalese; just cover the basic tenets of your policy.
Make your return policy prominent, in multiple areas
Don’t hide your policy, either. Make sure there’s a prominent page for advertising your return policies on your website, and include links and references to it on your individual product pages. Seeing the existence of a return policy may be all the extra confidence your customers need to finalize a purchase.
Have representatives available to discuss the policy
Even simple policies can be confusing to new customers. Make sure you have representatives available via chat, phone call or email to explain the details of purchasing and returns to anyone who ends up having a question.
The best return policy is one you only have to use occasionally. You can prevent returns entirely with these strategies:
Describe your products accurately and thoroughly
On all your pages, make sure you describe your products well. Offering photos and videos can help clear up confusion. Also, make sure you include the measurements and dimensions of items that might require them.
Acknowledge and prevent common issues
If you notice there’s a pattern in your customer returns and complaints, take action. Try to address common customer concerns proactively by acknowledging instances of misuse or confusion on respective product pages, and offering suggestions on how to prevent them.
Have a convenient customer help line
Before initiating a return, try to help people with their issues. You never know when correcting a simple user error may be enough to make a customer satisfied. Make sure you’re tracking whatever communication medium you settle on. Analyzing and visualizing the data will help you learn from your mistakes and repeat the techniques you’ve used to successfully resolve problematic situations.
Fulfilling returns promptly
One of the best ways to improve your brand reputation over time is to make good on that return policy, consistently, whenever someone is dissatisfied. Previously annoyed customers may come to appreciate your brand more, and already-satisfied customers will think even more highly of you, spreading the word about how easy it is to work with you.
But to see these benefits, you’ll need to do the following:
Consider a no-questions-asked approach
Pressuring customers to give you a reason for the return, or justify the exchange can be a sore spot — especially if the customer is already annoyed or upset at the situation. Consider following through with a no-questions-asked approach, handling returns without much dialogue unless there’s a suspicious pattern of behavior.
Arrange for shipping as conveniently as possible
Nobody wants the hassle of arranging shipping from scratch, so it’s ideal if you arrange return shipping on your customer’s behalf. One common method is to send customers a paid return shipping label, which they can print and use to send back the product in its original packaging.
If exchanging, send out the new product right away
If a customer is exchanging one product for another, such as a different size of the same piece of clothing, consider sending out the new item immediately upon getting notification that the original item has been shipped. This will reduce customer annoyance, and make the return process faster and more straightforward.
With the right return policy in place, you can improve customer trust almost immediately, securing more conversions and boosting your brand reputation. It might take time for your customer satisfaction to increase as your policy takes hold, but the long-term benefits are worth the wait.