For every business, no matter how big or small, the sales process doesn’t end when you sell a product to the customer and take the money: you must also consider your after-sales service, including how to deal with customers who wish to return goods. To prevent frustration and confusion, you must have a clear returns policy in place for your business.
According to surveys, 9% of purchases are returned to high street stores, compared with 30% of online purchases. The stores’ returns policies can vary, depending on the type of goods on sale.
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The policy provides a set of guidelines in the event that the product is defective, or doesn’t meet the customer’s expectations. Most stores will accept returns if the customer has changed their mind, or bought the wrong item. After Christmas, it’s common for people to return items which are unwanted gifts.
While the majority of stores permit returns within a specified time period – usually between 14 and 28 days – over the festive period, some businesses change their returns policy to help customers buying Christmas gifts. It’s all about keeping your customers happy and being mindful that a lot of purchases are going to be for presents.
Most retailers will extend their normal returns period so that people who wish to exchange an unsuitable Christmas gift can do so in January. The most common practice is to state on the receipt that goods purchased from a specific date (often from the start of November) can be returned up to a later date in January.
Keep to the rules
By keeping strict rules about returns, you’ll avoid having frustrated customers. Your policy should indicate whether the customer needs the receipt to make a return or exchange. Some stores will allow a customer to return an item without the receipt, but only in exchange for a store gift card or credit note.
Having a receipt may enable the customer to receive a cash refund, or a full refund to a credit or debit card, depending on how they paid. You can stipulate, “No returns without receipts,” or, “No exchanges without receipts,” to put a blanket ban on accepting returned goods without proof of purchase. Alternatively, you can state, “Returns without receipts will result in store credit,” so customers won’t expect to get their money back in this situation.
A study by the National Retail Federation found that an average 10% of returns didn’t have the receipt. Keep a strong returns policy that your customers can understand easily. As long as you are upfront about it, there will be no misunderstandings and customers will know what to expect in the event of a post-Christmas return.
You can choose different guidelines for each product that you sell. For example, if you run a general store that sells everything from kids’ toys to food and drink, you could state that items had a 14-day returns period, except for edible items.
Some retailers will not accept certain items back for hygiene reasons, such as underwear or earrings for pierced ears. It is common practice not to accept video games or DVDs that have been opened, in case they have been played or watched, or even copied to create a bootleg version. If items such as these have been opened, but are returned as being faulty, it’s usual for the store to exchange them for a new copy of the same title.
Sometimes, stores will refuse to accept a bespoke one-off item that has been ordered in especially for the customer if they have simply changed their mind, as it would be impossible to resell such items.
Stick to some basic rules with your returns policy and you shouldn’t go wrong. Be consistent and give all customers the same treatment – never change up the rules without letting them know. Display your policy in clear view and explain it to the customer when they make a purchase, especially if you have modified it for the Christmas period.
Make sure your employees are trained to handle returns. They must understand your business’s returns policy and how to complete the transactions. Never leave customers waiting around while staff work out how to complete the return.
Discreetly find out how your competitors handle returns, as you can’t risk losing customers because your rivals have a more favourable policy than your own.
If you’re running an online business, make it clear on your website whether you will pay the return postage, or whether the customer must pay it.
Don’t underestimate the importance of having an efficient, customer-friendly returns policy. It may seem as if you’re spending a lot of time and energy performing a service that gives you nothing in return, but on the contrary, you’re more likely to end up with a customer who appreciates your service – and they will come again in the future!
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