The truth is that online stores deal with way more returns than physical ones. And while it’s part and parcel of running an eCommerce store, it doesn’t mean that your business has to suffer.
Despite having to deal with returns (usually through no fault of your own), it’s important that they’re managed effectively. Why? Because the way they’re handled and the ease with which customers can request them is becoming just as important as the initial buying process. Which is why this returns 101 masterclass is crucial for online stores that want to keep and expand their business.
So, let’s talk strategy. Here’s how you can improve your returns management system…
OK, so there are two types of returns that a customer’s reason for sending your item back might fall into. These are labelled as controllable and uncontrollable. Let’s break them down:
These are returns that can either be reduced or don’t happen at all, and they are well within your control. This includes product descriptions that are not thorough and don’t match the item you are selling, poor packaging that results in the product becoming damaged in transit, slow shipping times, and just general eCommerce mismanagement.
Address the above likely return reasons and adjust. For example, use a sturdier packing material, update your product description, use a different courier, etc. Plus, check your products and assess the quality of them against the online description.
These are reasons out of your control. For example, if a customer purchases a product from you and then decides they no longer want it.
Naturally, this is trickier to address, and there are conflicting solutions that can be attempted. (Both have success stories, so do some research on your customer base and make an informed decision regarding their purchase and returns habits.)
Reduce the return time window – A smaller time frame may put some buyers off returning the item as they may not have time to complete the process. Think busy, working professionals.
Extending the return time window – This is also called the endowment effect, by which the longer a customer has an item, the more attached they become to it, therefore reducing the chance of return.
Just like your shipping policy, it’s super important that your returns policy is transparent, accessible, and easy to understand because it’s a key factor when it comes to providing excellent customer service.
Make sure it’s clear on your website, as well as any other partner or affiliate sites you sell on. Not to mention enclose a physical copy with all of your products once they’ve been purchased. This manages customer expectations straight up (we’re talking return deadlines, exchanges, refunds, etc) and dispels any confusion or frustration that could arise further down the line.
These days, everything has to be quick, especially online. Attention spans have shortened, and according to research, if your website doesn’t load within 6 seconds, you can say see ya to potential customers. And this fast-paced non-negotiable applies to returns, too.
You need to make sure that they’re processed as quickly as possible, as credit that takes too long to come through can put a black mark against your name when it comes to future custom. FYI, the next tip can really help with this one.
If you want your returns to be dealt with by a team of experts, hiring a third-party fulfilment service is a shout. They’ll take over that aspect of your business and streamline the approach so that every buyer receives the best customer service and has their queries responded to as quickly as possible. (We’re not saying bringing in external helpers makes you bad at your job – but running a full-time online store independently can stretch you very thinly, and asking for a bit of help never hurt anyone.)
The benefits of hiring a reputable and experienced fulfilment service include:
– They use the best courier services.- They know how to properly pack a product.
– They’re savvy when it comes to reducing controllable costs.- They can expedite shipping.- They can take over after-sales support after a return has been made.- They can recoup credit or money from couriers if an issue regarding the product was their fault.- They can ship a replacement item to your customer.- They can deal with and respond to customer questions.
Essentially, they’re experts at maintaining and salvaging customer relationships in terms of returns.
Whether you’re overwhelmed by the amount to think about, or you’re already planning your upgraded returns policy, taking note of these tips will not only improve your customer service rep, but it will also make life easier for you as an online store.
There’s so much competition out there, people, so constantly adapting and moving with the times will help you stay ahead of the game.