Opening an ecommerce business isn’t without its risks. If your ambition is to keep it afloat, you’ll need to come to terms with the fact that your sales won’t be trouble-free 100% of the time. And this is where the issue of returns comes in—it’s a fairly common pain point in ecommerce, especially in retail, and one that entrepreneurs must face for the sake of their company, their shippers, and their customers.
Addressing returns with a well-crafted returns policy will be good for an ecommerce business in several ways: (1) it will increase trust in the business, (2) it will help retain customers, and (3) it will pose different opportunities to improve sales. It’s in your best interest to create one now, taking the following into consideration:
- The logistical end of the returns process. The first thing you’ll need to work out is who will handle the logistics of your store’s returns. If you sell a lot of products, but don’t have enough space to sort, inspect, or re-ship them yourself, you may want to consider getting high-quality ecommerce fulfillment services from a third-party logistics (3PL) provider. Their expertise and solid protocols for returns will surely reflect well on your business, even over perceived mistakes in shipment.
- Types of compensation possible. Another thing that will keep you in the good graces of your customers is the presence of options in your return policy. There are several that you can offer them in lieu of a replacement—one example is store credits plus free shipping, so that the money will remain in the pipeline.
- Return fees. Any fees that will be involved in the returns process must be disclosed to the customer. After all, you wouldn’t want be perceived by them as greedy, opportunistic, or dishonest. If you want to keep this from happening, determine what the shipping fees will be and communicate them to your customers. In addition, you can soften the blow of having to pay fees by offering shipping discounts on the customer’s next purchase or throwing in a free gift certificate.
- Product condition. What condition should the product be in for it to still be eligible for returns? You will need to stipulate that you only accept returns of unused, unworn, or lightly used products, so as to prevent customers from sending back broken or worn-down items. Be especially aware of how fragile certain products are as compared to others, so that you can anticipate which ones will be returned more often.
- Timeframes. Do mark the different steps in the return process, and consequently what the most realistic timeframes for each of them are: allowable period to file for a return, expected number of days to receive a replacement, and the like. Depending on the step involved, a good timeframe would be between 30 to 90 days. Just remember that nobody likes overly tight deadlines—giving your customers a wide enough berth to complete the returns process will make you appear reasonable and considerate.
- Instructiveness and clarity. Once you’ve covered all the terms in your returns policy, it will be time to put everything in writing. Your goal is to publish a document that’s readable, easy to understand, instructive, and as unambiguous as possible. Outline the details of the process flow in a clear and concise manner. Finally, try to avoid unnecessary jargon and legalese.
- Accessibility to customers. Sadly, some ecommerce entrepreneurs resort to the rather cheap tactic of obscuring their returns policy from customers, all in the hopes of discouraging them and making a quick buck. Prove that you aren’t like that bunch and show good faith to your customers instead. You can do so by making the link to the policy visible on your landing page, adding a reminder about the policy to the customer’s order confirmation, and printing return labels on your shipments to them.
To complement a strong and clear returns policy, you should also move to reduce returns in the first place. Some examples of how you can do so are releasing demo videos of products detailing proper usage, providing size charts on individual product pages, or hosting a virtual fitting room. In cases where returns are necessary, the key points of action are proper expectation setting and an efficient process. This is what will guarantee better transactions on your ecommerce site and a better experience for everyone.