Why you need a customer returns policy for your e-commerce store.

Enacting a clear customer returns policy is an easy win for your e-commerce business.

The holidays are nearly upon us. That means a busy time for retailers—and a subsequent uptick in their customer returns. This begs an important question for almost every e-commerce business: are you equipped to handle it?

I’ve had to return two purchases in the last month: one to Amazon (they sent me the wrong edition of a book), and the other to a clothing retailer (the clothes didn’t fit). I also recently had to make a complaint to my favorite online fabric store because inaccurate information on their site lead me to purchase the wrong amount of fabric. Each of these exchanges went well for me, but they also reinforced my belief in clear and painless returns policies.

Most e-commerce stores understand the importance of a clear returns policy. In fact, free and easy returns are the lifeblood of almost every online interaction. Without the opportunity to hold the item in our hands before purchase, most of us would be too anxious to buy otherwise.

And yet, we still encounter some stores that struggle to make their returns process as straightforward as customers might like. Whether this steps from a mistrust of the customer (they fear being scammed), difficulties with managing the returns process (adjusting stock, communication between online and brick-and-mortar locations), or simple lack of prioritization (“we’ve survived without it so far!”), here are three reasons why it’s time to straighten out your customer returns policy.

1. Your customers expect it.

What do you think of a store that says “no returns?” In the days before e-commerce, no-returns (or conditional returns) policies had some sense to them (even if it still wasn’t the best policy). But for any business that expects customers to purchase a product sight unseen, “no returns” is an unreasonable position.

There are some obvious exceptions. Most of us understand that customized items, perishable goods, and sale items cannot be returned. And for obvious reasons: custom orders can’t easily be resold to anyone but the original buyer; perishable or consumable items could have been tampered with; we’re only offered the lower price on sale items so that stores can clear those items from their stock.

But unless your item falls under those categories, you’ll need to provide a pretty clear reason why you won’t accept returns… or you’ll have to accept returns.

2. It builds trust.

After spending so much time taking about customer expectations, let me ask you: when was the last time you looked at a customer returns policy before making a purchase?

If you’re like me, you probably haven’t checked in a while. Your expectations are so set in stone, that you blithely believe that e-commerce stores will offer full refunds with paid shipping on all orders, no questions asked.

Now, imagine your reaction if, after making such a purchase, you were to discover that the store didn’t accept returns? Would you ever shop there again?

I wouldn’t. I bet you wouldn’t, either. So if you don’t offer a good customer returns policy, why would you expect your customers to come back to you?

3. It lowers the barrier-to-entry.

I’ve been a loyal Audible listener for several years. One of my favorite aspects of their service is the easy convenience of returning books I didn’t like. While I used to horde my credits for fear of wasting one on a bad title, now I’m much happier to make a purchase. And because this keeps me happy with my service, it makes me far less likely to cancel.

The same is true for almost every online store—particularly clothing retailers. Most of us have far too much experience trying on clothes we thought would be perfect only to be disappointed by their unflattering appearance. If this happens to us while shopping in-store, how much warier would we be of making a purchase online without the chance to try our purchases on?

This is where a returns policy can save an e-commerce business. Not only are customers more likely to purchase something they’re reasonably certain will fit, they’re also more comfortable taking a chance on an item. They may send it back, but they also expect to be able to send it back.

Yes, we know we’re making this sound easier than it is.

Returns are a pain. I know it, you know it—heck, even your customer knows it. Very few people order a product online (where, let’s remember, doorstep delivery is a key benefit) just for the sheer joy of making an extra trip to the post office to take their product back.

If your customer wants to return your product, you’re already in an awkward situation because they’re dissatisfied. Your only hope of repairing that relationship and retaining that customer is by making the returns process as clear and straightforward as possible.

Is it inconvenient for you? Yes. It’s even more inconvenient for your customer.

Does it cost you money? Yes. But it will cost your customer money if you don’t take it back.

Do you suspect your customers take advantage of it? They might. But it also lowers the barrier to entry, making it easier for them to become your customers in the first place.

And remember, if they order from you once, it gives you an excellent chance to continue marketing to them in the future.

The holiday season can make or break retailers. But for e-commerce, if you don’t have a satisfactory customer returns policy, you could be losing out on business during this vital sales season. Make sure you’re ready before the rush hits.

Published 11/07/17 by Laura Lynch