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How to Design the Perfect Return Policy

12/19/2019 | 02:00 PM | 6 Min Read

How to Design the Perfect Return Policy Accumula Blog

Want to increase customer satisfaction? Make sure you have a great return policy in place. Though some businesses think of returns and exchanges as a necessary evil of the retail world, there’s plenty of evidence that a customer-friendly return policy can improve customer satisfaction and even improve your bottom line.

Research shows that 96 percent of consumers are willing to shop with a business again if they offer a friction-free, easy process for returns. And if you operate both online and brick-and-mortar stores, the ability to return online orders to a store—and avoid paying for return shipping—makes a difference in the buying habits of 69 percent of consumers.

An inflexible return policy makes it harder for shoppers to return their orders, jeopardizing customer satisfaction and risking the loss of sales to more returns-friendly competitors.

Instead of treating returns as a transactional process, overhaul your strategy by framing it as a relational interaction. Here’s how to bake that strategy into your return policy.

Planning for Omnichannel Returns

If you’re running both online and physical stores, do yourself a favor and break down the wall between returns on each channel. Shoppers are regularly deterred by the need to pay for return shipping when returning an online order. The longer processing time required by mailed returns also hurts the customer experience.

You can improve this process by using a point-of-sale (POS) solution that integrates in-store and online orders. Legacy POS equipment may not offer the ability to easily pull up online orders at a store cash register, and this disconnect is a serious pain point for your customers. Implement a system that makes omnichannel returns and exchanges as simple as possible for your shoppers.

You can still offer mailed returns, especially because some of your sales may be to customers who don’t live close to any of your stores. Just don’t force local shoppers to use the same method. Better customer choice always results in greater customer satisfaction.

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Treat the Return as an Opportunity to Exchange

Even when a customer wants to return their purchase, there’s still an opportunity to save the sale by starting a dialogue. The key to this type of conversion is asking the right probing questions to find out if you’re able to accommodate their needs.

Store associates should be prepared to ask questions that seek a better understanding of the customers’ needs, such as:

  • “What about the product did not work for you?”
  • “Are you planning on wearing this to a special event?”
  • “Do you have time to find something that fits more comfortably?”

Questions like these can help the store associate recommend other products that could serve the customers’ needs. By managing the returns process in this way, brands increase in-store sales and customer service scores.

This positive experience also makes the customer more likely to return to that store location to make their next purchase, thanks to the level of care they received during their visit.

The Essential Fine Print

Don’t frustrate your shoppers with a return policy that is ambiguous or intentionally confusing. Your goal when designing a return policy should be to make this process as simple and straightforward as possible.

Remember that many shoppers will check your return policy online and in-store before making a purchase. The more complicated your policy is, the more likely your customers are to become overwhelmed or change their mind and abandon the purchase.

At a minimum, your return policy should address the following details:

  • The return policy time frame for purchases, whether 30, 60, or another amount of days following the purchase
  • Explicit mention of which items are non-returnable and non-exchangeable. Some businesses, for example, won’t allow products such as swimsuits to be returned after purchase
  • The condition of items required for returns, such as having the tags still on. For example, it’s normal for shoe purchases to be deemed final once the shoe is worn outside, although not every retailer observes this policy
  • How returns can be processed. Do you refund the cost directly to a credit card? Do you only offer store credit? Are there time frames during which payments can be refunded and after which only store credit or exchanges are offered?

This returns information should be easy to find. Ideally, it should be featured on your business website, on shipping receipts, and on in-store receipts printed or emailed to a customer’s account. Don’t try to hide this information from your customers—it will only lower customer satisfaction.

Addressing Expectations for Proof of Purchase

Be explicit about what counts as a proof of purchase and where digital receipts can be found online. This is one reason to encourage customers to register an account with your online store: It provides an easy repository for any receipts they may need when making returns in the future.

If you’re using an integrated POS, your customers likely have access to digital receipts online or saved in their email account—whether or not you issue paper receipts with in-store purchases. 

However you choose to hand out receipts, be clear about the importance of holding onto them for future returns, and/or make it easy for customers to find digital copies to facilitate a fast return.

A good return policy will improve your customers’ perception of your brand instead of detracting from it. If you’re still unsure of how to design your own return policy, think about a retail return policy you personally love from an existing brand, and use that example as a template to make your own.

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