The following is a guest post from Harrison Dromgoole, Content Creator at Ordoro

All merchants strive for a high order volume that continually grows. But that success tends to be followed by a curse – returns.

The higher your order volume, the greater the chance of having a customer returning an order, especially around the holidays. Fortunately, we’re two months from last year’s holiday season, so returns are hopefully a little less ridiculous. Nonetheless, they’re never going to be completely gone, and here are some ways to prevent them.

First line of defense

One of the fundamental issues with selling online is the fact that customers lack the opportunity to see, touch, and inspect the product prior to purchase. Fortunately, that’s where your product photography and product descriptions come in. Both of them immediately set the level of expectation that a customer has upon purchase, and it’s important to set that bar as realistic as possible.

The phrase “extraordinarily realistic,” although kind of contradictory, is a good goal to aim for when creating product images and descriptions. Images should be as clear and detailed as possible; they should show exactly what the customer should expect. If you’ve got a product that functions a certain type of way, consider filming a YouTube video of it in action.

As for the online product descriptions, they need to include every single facet of your product. Describe what the product accomplishes – whether it’s attire or a tool – and list what the customer should expect inside their package, like components, to ensure they know what they’re getting. Below is a great example of a product description from Walls Need Love that does all of the above, while incorporating the brand’s tone:

great product description

Planning for the worst

Sometimes, customers are just going to be unsatisfied no matter what. The color of the product might be lightpink instead of the RGB for lightpink 1, or it may have a fleck of dust on it that shouldn’t be there. Your returns policy now comes into play and should ease up on the ordeal of returns management by letting merchant and consumer know what needs to be done next.

Returns policies are, obviously, policies that lay out how the customer should go about handling ecommerce returns. The sum goal of a returns policy is simple; create as little hassle and vagueness as possible to keep both customer and merchant happy.

Although parts of it depend on your fulfillment strategy, here are some general factors to include in your returns (or refunds and exchanges) policy:

  •  Packaging – determine whether you or your customer handles packaging materials
  • Reimbursement – decide whether you will reimburse the customer for shipping and packaging, or if you want to give them credit to your store
  • Return address – if you’re fulfilling in-house, this is just your address, but it’s important that you determine who gets the return package if you’re using a warehouse or dropshipping
  • Materials to be included – determine everything that needs to be sent to you; the product and it’s components, proof of damage, customer feedback, proof of purchase, etc
  • Due date for return – set a deadline by which the customer needs to send the product back
  • Shipping and storage costs – use your own judgment to determine who must pay for shipping, as well as any additional costs, like a restocking fee (for warehouses and suppliers)

Your returns policy is worthless if customers can’t easily find it. Be sure to place it somewhere noticeable on your website, especially if you’re intent on using it to persuade customers to trust you. It’s also possible to include it in your packaging, which is particularly useful for products with high return rates, like apparel.

returns

Image: Simon Cunningham, Flickr

Researching returns

Although it should be clear and specific, stringent, well-defined returns policies might not be all that helpful for merchants. In returns research reported by The Washington Post, a lenient returns policy tends to lead to more customers returning orders. But it also leads to more sales – the option to return an item helped convert site visitors.

But that word – lenient – is important. When researchers examined specific, time-related aspects to the policy, greater leniency on time limits led to a reduction in returns.

Why? A variety of reasons. The “endowment effect,” when a customer is more attached to a product the longer they have it, may be a cause. At the same time, a longer time frame means less pressure and urgency over making the decision to return, leading to a greater chance that they’ll stick with the product.

It makes perfect sense, really. Instead of being a stickler focused on capitalizing off your customers, a lenient returns policy gives off a vibe that you’re focused on your customer’s satisfaction first and foremost. Ideally, the customer then trusts you more (especially after a successful return), which means they’ll return for another purchase.

Regardless of whether or not your returns policy is loose or strict, just having one is essential. Not only does it encourage customers to plug their credit card digits in, it also helps to ease up on the hassle of returns management. It’s a win-win for both customer and merchant.


About the Author: Harrison Dromgoole is the Content Creator at Ordoro, a shipping and inventory management tool. Ordoro tackles the unsexy but essential function of supply chain and order management, allowing merchants to streamline their back-office processes across all their sales channels so they can focus on growing their business.

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