Compared to brick-and-mortar retailers, there’s one area in which eCommerce is at a disadvantage — shoppers can’t examine the goods. However clear product descriptions and images are, there is no substitute to being able to try before buying.
Customers take a risk when they buy a product from an eCommerce store. It might not be what they want. It might not fit. It might not work. All of which breeds doubt that can lead to the shopper abandoning the purchase.
Merchants can combat that doubt with a returns policy that makes it easy for customers to ship goods back and get a refund if they experience buyer’s remorse.
Returns can be expensive to manage and they involve giving up a sale, but without a generous returns policy, a retailer is probably losing sales anyway. A policy that makes returns easy for the customer increases confidence in the store, and even if the customer makes a return, they’re more likely to make a purchase in the future.
According to a survey by comScore and UPS, over 60% of customers check returns policies before making a purchase, and just under half would shop more with retailers that have hassle-free returns.
You Need A Written Returns Policy
First, make sure you have a returns policy. Most countries have a legal framework for returns that retailers are obligated to adhere to, but that’s the minimum retailers should do. A returns policy that clearly lays out the obligations of the retailer to the customer increases confidence and improves the chances that a sale will be completed.
It Should Be Displayed Prominently
Don’t bury the returns policy in the footer of your site under an obscure link. If you’re going to offer a generous returns policy as a way to increase sales, make sure that shoppers can find it.
A generous returns policy can be a promotional and sales tool, so mention it in email and social media marketing and as part of product pages.
Use Simple English
Your lawyer may advise you to fill your returns policy with legalisms, opaque language, and obscure conditions, but that won’t help you win the confidence of customers. If you feel it’s necessary to have a legalistic returns policy, have a “plain English” version that summarizes what you expect of customers and what they can expect of your store.
Consider Free Returns
If feasible, your store should offer free returns. You’re competing with Amazon, which has a generous free no-questions-asked returns policy. If possible, offer free returns and pay for the shipping.
Sometimes, this isn’t a viable strategy; perhaps the cost of returns would cut too deeply into revenues, or the average value of sales makes free returns too expensive. In those cases, consider offering free returns on sales over a certain value, or even implementing a membership scheme in which customers pay a small fee for the privilege of free returns for a year.
Control Return Rates With Proactive Customer Service And Sales Copy
Many returns can be avoided. Customers occasionally buy the wrong product. And they sometimes don’t know how to use the product once it arrives. I advise eCommerce store owners to proactively combat customer misunderstandings with two main strategies.
- Write accurate sales copy. Sales copy should be clear, accurate, and explanatory. It’s better that a customer not make a purchase than that they make a purchase and then return the product.
- Provide after-sale support. Make sure customers know where they can get support — after-sales emails are effective for this. Many of the questions and confusions shoppers have can be answered by a well-trained customer service team.
However much you dislike returns, having a generous, prominent, and easy-to-understand returns policy is a key factor in eCommerce success.