Why do customers opt for online shopping? If you answered because of ‘Low Price’ then it’s not quite true. Yes, low price is one of the reasons to shop online. But it’s neither the only one nor the top most driving factor. It’s ‘Convenience’. Convenience of:
- Shopping for anything
- Shopping from anywhere
- Doorstep delivery
- Hassle free Returns & Exchange
- Ditching long queues
The ease accompanied with Internet shopping is what largely contributed to the growth of online shopping and not solely low price.
Let’s understand the role of one specific ‘Convenience Factor’ – the Returns Process. Why is it important to have a smooth return process? How might the failure to do so dissuade people to shop from your website?
Significance of Return Policy
Every one is quite aware of the fact that a customer can’t see, touch and feel a product while shopping online. This is why online shoppers first check the return process of Ecommerce sites before clicking on the ‘Buy’ button. Be assured that shopping cart will be abandoned if customer isn’t happy with your return policy.
Take for instance, if a shopper wants to buy shoes, shirt or a dress. These products differ in size and fit, depending on the manufacturing brand. A Nike size 12 shoe is not same as Puma size 12 shoe. Similarly an L size dress of Mango and Vero Moda has different measurements. Even if the difference is just half an inch, it does matter a great deal! Not to mention the colour & print variation, as the real product and virtually uploaded image of the same item can look different. Damage caused while shipping and wrong product delivery are other reasons where returns & exchange policy figure.
For this reason, smooth return process is imperative if you wish to increase your sales and minimize customer grievances. It’s a key factor in winning the trust of online shoppers and persuading them to buy rather than abandoning cart and looking elsewhere.
Ideal Return Process
From a customer’s perspective, in an ideal world all returns/exchange products should be picked from their doorstep without any ifs and buts related to tags, unused/used state, x days after delivery etc. But just like any other business, reasonable terms and conditions need to be laid down so that neither the seller nor the buyer feels cheated or misuses their power.
As a seller, it is rational to not provide exchange for certain categories such as intimate wear, fragrances, beauty products, socks, etc. for hygiene purpose. It is also rational to expect that all the tags are intact, that products are unused and return request falls well within the exchange period.
As for the buyer’s perspective about ideal return process, Entrepreneur.com published a fabulous infographic article highlighting the same. The write-up carefully laid out ‘4 Things Shoppers Want in an Online Retailer’s Return Policy’ which pretty much sums up what basic features an effective process needs to have. They are:
- Every bit of information about the return process should be simple, clear and accurate on the website. Ambiguous and misleading facts are a strict no-no. Plus, it should be easy to find on the web layout.
- Buyers opt to buy online for convenience, thus keep the return process convenient too.
- Return shipping cost is a deal breaker. If customers are expected to shell out money for goods they don’t want, then they would most definitely switch to other online portals or shops.
- Offer a flexible window period for returns.
Handling Slip Ups Effectively
One of our previously published article ‘The world is filled with dissatisfied customers! How can you cool them down’ described how itshandmade.in efficiently handled a goof-up in return process. They were prompt in addressing the issue, accepting the error on their part and solving the grievance of a disgruntled customer.
People from Jabong.com were not so smart, as per one unhappy customer who shared his sour experience of returning his order to the online shopping portal. When the buyer asked Jabong to pick up the parcel, he received a reply from them that stated ‘Since your area pin code falls under non-serviceable area for reverse pick-up with our third party courier services; hence, I request you to send the package to us at the address mentioned below.’
The customer added, “If I lived 4000 feet above in Cherrapunji, I would have understood the ‘non-serviceable area’ excuse. But I live in a city where just a few days back they had no problem delivering the same parcel! I asked them to explain but they didn’t or rather couldn’t. On their website they say, ‘Currently exchange is operational in areas where we can arrange pick up. We are working constantly to bring exchange in your area.’ But I think they are working constantly to remove areas since they had arranged a pickup last year for one of my orders. But now it is a non-serviceable area apparently.”
This is why uploading vague information about return policy can be detrimental for the business. Online sellers should explicitly spell out where and why there are different return policies for individual cities & categories. If you don’t provide a plausible explanation for the differential treatment, then customers will not come back.
Most importantly, be prompt, polite and considerate while handling return requests and goof-ups.
How to Manage the Return Rate and Keep It Low
Every seller, be it online or offline, wishes that their return rate is zero or low. While it’s impossible to avoid returns but measures can be taken to minimize it as much as possible. Below are some pointers:
- Provide detailed and accurate product information and images. Incomplete and inaccurate information leads to wrong purchases and thus returns. Add a precise size chart with reference points for apparels, accessories and for whichever category it applies.
- Adopt stringent measures for packaging and delivery of goods. Most of the slip-ups happen when wrong product is shipped or it’s not handled carefully during packing & transit. Once this is taken care of, return rate will drop down considerably.
- Screen your sellers very carefully and blacklist the ones that don’t comply with rules regarding quality of the product.
- Keep realistic delivery time realistic. When you over-promise and not able to deliver, customers are disappointed. And when you under-promise by over estimating the delivery date then customers are disappointed too.
- Make use of tools to get real-time stock availability.
Managing and reducing return process is easy when Ecommerce businesses start thinking like customers and consider their view. A hassle free and no (unreasonable/complicated) strings attached returns policy helps to achieve more conversions. More so in case of online shopping when it isn’t always possible for buyers to be completely sure of their purchase. Hence, carefully prepare your return policy as it is one of the biggest influencing factors for future purchases.