If a returns policy is detailed, and put in place ASAP, it can protect your entire business. By the same token, a vague and poorly managed returns policy can leave you at risk of bad reviews and a bad reputation. A thorough and detailed policy shows, by contrast, that your business is happy to go above and beyond for a customer. Not only that, but it makes a practical difference: it’s easier to end disputes and cut down on time spent pleasing unhappy customers. So if you haven’t delivered a returns policy for your new business or start-up, then it’s time to look closer at doing this as soon as you possibly can. Let’s take a look at what makes a great returns policy, and why it’s so important to have one.
Online Returns Can Be Damaging
Returns policies are double edged swords. On the one hand, they’re there to protect the customer: say their package arrives all dented and damaged, for instance. On the other hand, they also must protect the business they’re for. You simply can’t afford to offer returns for anything and everything, least of all returns that you pay for.
One of the main reasons we recommend that you put more effort into developing a clear and comprehensive returns policy is for protection. A failure to protect your business can be dangerous. While the majority of shoppers will return less than a tenth of their purchases, some customers liberally and regularly return items, normally because they find fault more than your average shopper.
The main challenge is that if you have a poor quality returns policy that doesn’t protect you, returns could kill your business. If you aren’t clear about what is and is not acceptable, then rest assured, people will look to take advantage of your vagueness. So, of course, a customer who receives a damaged package should be entitled to a return; but where do you draw the line? A dent? A scratch? A buff? Water marks on cutlery? Simply stating ‘minor damage’ or ‘superficial damage’ might be too vague, so consider giving examples in your policy.
It’s also important that you make sure that your returns policy is clear on who pays for the return, and what their options for returning would be. You should make it clear that they need to ship it back to you (at the cost of who you choose). This could be dependant on the extent of the damage, so if the product is unusable, it should be on you; but minute superficial damage would mean that the customer pays. Or not; it’s your policy. The key is to be clear.
When Should I Update My Policy?
Now. You shouldn’t wait a moment longer. If you feel like your policy falls short on anything above that we mentioned, you need to change it now. There’s nothing to be gained in waiting around. Now, updating a policy isn’t something you should do without any thought; so consider following the following structure.
- First off, make sure there is a clear policy on timeline for refunds. This includes both the deadline for initiating a dispute, and the time it will take to process and initiate the refund. If you do this, you’ll have a policy people can feel safe with.
- Depending on what you sell, some items simply cannot be refunded or returned. Make it clear that some items may be exempt from policy, such as underwear! Always take the time to be clear and concise. Avoid excessive legal terminology and make sure that the terms are clear. Examples would be useful. If in doubt, provide ample contact details for those who have any questions.
- Typically, you want to consider free returns shipping. The majority see this as a goodwill policy, so if you can afford this be sure to consider it. Perhaps offer to meet X% of the shipping cost if you cannot stretch to the full volume, or as we said above, pay shipping for some damage but not all kinds of damage.
- A good returns policy will look to make returns hassle-free so long as the customer can provide proof of purchase. Naturally, this is super-easy when it comes to E-Commerce, unless you write out customer details by hand and send receipts by telegram. If you make it easy for customers to initiate the dialogue and avoid the Spanish inquisition, you’ll be more likely to keep customers coming back, even if they were unhappy.
- Outline the process of returning something, assuming that the customer hasn’t ever returned anything to an E-Commerce store before. So detail what proof they need to show you, whether they need you to confirm the return, and any other details relevant to how you deal with returns. If they need to print out a return label, make it easy for them to pick up from your site and ensure its printer-friendly. Add it as part of the policy so that people can easily access what they need.
Something along those lines is going to give your customer everything they need to understand what’s on the table and what’s not. Look at it from their point of view: with a policy like the one above, they’ll know what they can return, when they can return it, and how much it’ll cost. They’ll know exactly how to go about it, too. And really, what more could anyone want from a returns policy?
The best thing is that it protects your business, too. You can set up your policy to be as generous or as abominably tight-fisted as you like (although we wouldn’t recommend that); the key is to be clear, because clarity is the key to all effective communication and great customer service.