Life is filled with small print, and as consumers we hate it. Businesses may use these fine details to protect themselves from frivolous claims and abusive customers, but at what cost? Simply put, if the policies on your ecommerce site aren’t optimized for your users, you’re missing out on traffic and disenchanting the people perusing your pages. This is especially true if you have a weak return policy.

Good business requires synergy between a company and its customers. Brick and mortar stores have been around for thousands of years; the most successful ones already have this down to a science. Ecommerce websites, however, operate in (a constantly growing) pioneer-land, and replicating this energy is challenging.

If you’re looking to get on the same page as your consumers, boost sales, and increase your brand’s credibility, it’s going to be an uphill battle. One thing is certain though – if you can create an informative, user-friendly return policy and then leverage it effectively, it will help you achieve all these things and more. Here are five ways to make it happen.

  1. Make it easy to see, understand, and use

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Take a look at Best Buy’s return policy. It’s apparent that this was written with users in mind. Easy-to-read text, proper bolding, useful icons, instructive but not overly detailed – this is what you should shoot for on your own website.

As with most things in life, balance is key. You want something that protects your business and ensures customers that they have some flexibility with returns – just not too much flexibility. Multiple studies have revealed that the majority of people purchasing products online first explore a site’s return policy before pulling the trigger on a purchase. Making yours accessible for shoppers will help build trust with them, and in turn help your sales totals.

  1. Have a fair policy – it’s better in the long run

Having a highly restrictive return policy is a tempting for many businesses. There’s no question about it – returns are irritating, they cost you money, and they waste your time. However, if you make yours too unfriendly for customers, you’re going to get pegged with negative reviews, as well as deter shoppers who are wary of committing to a product that most likely can’t be returned.

The key is balance – you don’t want to be too stringent, but you also can’t afford to be too lenient. One way to get a better idea of what works is to check out return policy samples and templates already proven to be effective for online businesses. With a little research on your part, you’ll soon be able to find a nice middle ground for your site.

As an aside related to being fair to customers: keep in mind that getting in an argument over a return is counter-productive. Unless the person is clearly trying to abuse your policy, it’s better to err on the side of caution and process their request (even if it’s off by a day or two). Your standing as a reputable ecommerce business is more valuable than the cost of one returned item. “Bend, don’t break” is a good mindset to have here.

  1. Use different forms of media to explain your return policy to consumers

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When you put a piece of written content in front of someone, they are bound to react differently – one person will read it closely, another will skim it, and someone else will shoot a spitball at the wall and not regard the piece at all. If you are trying to create your own successful ecommerce site and make a bunch of money, you’re bound to encounter a similarly diverse demographic of customers. They will take in the information of your policies with varying degrees of scrutiny, and your goal is to get them informed (remember: this builds trust and boosts sales).

Some websites have found great success using different types of media to notify online shoppers of their policies. For instance, RevZilla (a company that sells motorcycle parts and gear), has paired their return policy with a comprehensive video that clearly outlines how to send something back that you’ve purchased from them. This makes life easier for both the consumer and the employees who need to restock merchandise. Don’t worry about making an intricate video – simply having something to complement your written policy (a tutorial, a graphic, etc.) and your site will be in better shape.

  1. Get feedback

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If you’re accepting customer returns but not getting feedback from them, you’re missing out on valuable data. The cliche “knowledge is power” might not be fitting here, however something like “wisdom saves money” is probably applicable. By finding out why people are sending your products back, you’ll be able to isolate problem areas and ideally fix them. Collect this data on your site (Amazon does a great job at this), or with a small questionnaire attached to a “required” return form (either included in the packaging, or to be printed when the customer begins the returns process).

Speaking of cliches, “the customer is always right” is another one to consider – as an online merchant, you need their input to thrive. If you allow shoppers to leave reviews on your products, it will achieve two things – first, it’ll help other people browsing your site know if the item is a good fit for them, thus reducing your return rate. Second (and maybe more importantly), it will psychologically push them toward making the purchase. According to a survey by Vendasta, over 88% of people take online reviews into account before pulling the trigger on buying something. Customer feedback is a big part of running an effective returns process; make sure to take advantage of it.

  1. Diversify your return methods

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Let’s face it – a lot of us love receiving mail, but we hate sending it out. Customers who need to send back a product are often annoyed by the process, and if it’s too inconvenient they’ll think twice about shopping on your site in the future. There are a couple ways to rectify such a scenario:

#1. Include shipping labels in your packages. Many companies have already adopted this method, and the response has been positive from customers. Plus, with the advent of “Pay on Use” shipping labels, you only need to throw down money on labels that are actually used. Technology is your friend – use it to your advantage.

#2. Allow in-person returns. This may not be possible for every ecommerce business, but if it’s feasible, customers appreciate this option. A survey by The Pulse discovered that 82% of shoppers would be willing to complete a purchase over the internet if they were able to return a product at a physical location or if it included the (previously mentioned) shipping label. Also noted in this survey was that 70% of shoppers purchased an additional item while taking their product back – certainly not an insignificant statistic.

Conclusion

Many businesses throw up policies just to have them, and in general take them for granted. While things like having a compliant privacy policy are necessary for legal reasons, having an effective return policy is important for boosting your profit. Customers are constantly scrutinizing ecommerce websites and checking how easy (or complicated) it is to send back products. If you can leverage your return policy effectively, you’ll be able to make more money – it’s that simple.

Author Bio: Geoff Scott is an editor & community manager at FreelanceWriting.com, where he helps foster a positive environment for writers and those interested in making it as a freelancer. When he isn’t plugging away at his keyboard and consuming copious amounts of caffeine, you can find him riding his bike around town, enjoying a concert or eating spicy food.

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