Handling Returns in E-Commerce
Consumers are spending more online, and for online retailers like you, this is great news as the trend is only predicted to keep going skywards. But as more sales take place, returns are] also an inherent part of the process.
Handing returns in ecommerce can be pretty daunting, especially if you are new to E-Commerce. But the inevitable will happen. A dissatisfied customer will come along wanting to make a return for the item that they bought from your store. Before this happens, you need to be prepared, otherwise, you’ll be blindsided by your customer’s demand. The reason we are placing an emphasis on preparedness here is so that when you begin selling, knowing the process and what to expect will help you solve problems quickly and in a timely manner, ensuring that your customer will be satisfied and maintain full trust in your services.
Here are some return statistics every online store owner needs to know about:
- Customer returns amounted to $351 billion in lost sales in 2017.
- Shoppers are three times more likely to return a product bought online than in a brick and mortar store.
- 17% of shoppers say they will not make a purchase from a store without a return policy in place.
- 57% of shoppers report that they exchanged or replaced the last item they returned.
So, returns can’t be avoided and customers want to know that a brand won’t make returns hard for them before they make a purchase. In this case, what you need to have is a solid return policy in place, to protect your store, but more importantly, to make your customers feel that they can shop in your store with complete confidence and trust.
Understanding why customers want to make returns
There are many reasons why customers might want to return an item they purchased from your shop. While dissatisfaction and returns are an eventuality of dropshipping, knowing the top reasons behind product returns could help you avoid them to some extent. Let’s explore the top 6 reasons for product returns briefly before moving on to how to handle them.
1. Wrong product description
This is when your product description fails to meet your customer’s expectations. This will inadvertently lead to your customer’s disappointment and return of the item. Remember, it is important that your product description is a direct and accurate reflection of what the product is and what it does. Not being able to deliver what an item promises from the description can only have a less than savory outcome for both you and your customer.
2. Wrong item received
A common problem that could happen to your shop. Your customers have the right to feel annoyed when this happens and they will most certainly try to contact you through your shop. Never blame your supplier in this instance, just take full responsibility for the error made, and guide them through the return process.
3. Wrong item size
In this case, the customer buys an item that is either too large or too small. This can be somewhat avoided by including scale shots and a size chart on your product page. Even if you do have both of these things, your customer will still wind up getting the wrong size. When this happens, try to arrange an exchange for the item.
4. The customer changed their mind
This is when your customer orders something from your store, receives the item, and decide that they don’t like or need the item and want to return it. There’s not a lot you can do with this one, except having a solid return policy and then offering them an alternate purchase from your shop.
5. Holiday Season
The holidays are the busiest time of year for online shopping. Everyone is buying gifts for themselves and loved ones. Consequently, the increase in sales also means an increase in returns, especially for gifts that the receiver isn’t too excited about. This is a good time to encourage an item exchange.
6. Your Customer is a Wardrober
This one is the type of shopper you wished didn’t exist. Wardrobers are essentially people who buy things intending to use the item once before returning it. For instance, a customer might buy a dress from your store to wear to a party, and then after the dress fulfills their purpose, they return the item to get their cash back. This is unethical and commonly referred to as return fraud. Not much can be done to put off this kind of customer.
Easy returns drive loyalty
Some reasons behind the customer’s request for a refund and return can dishonest, but most will be legitimate, and in some instances, like in the case of errors committed by your shop or supplier, providing easy returns is the right and good thing to do.
The return process can have a lasting effect on your customer. It can either leave a positive or negative impact depending on how smoothly the process went, and 96% of shoppers say that they are willing to do business again with a store that provides easy returns. The takeaway here is that you shouldn’t look at returns negatively, instead see it as an opportunity to build loyalty by exceeding your customer’s expectations with easy returns.
Providing easy returns is still within the realm of customer service and you want to always make sure that your customers have a great experience shopping with you.
Now let’s jump right into talking about returns in dropshipping and how to handle them like a pro.
1. Have a return policy
This one is obvious, so let’s begin here. You can’t go on to opening your online store without having a return policy in check. This policy not only serves to give your customer a more secure online shopping experience but since it is a necessary thing to have, it protects you as a shop owner by laying down the rules for you and your customer.
A no return policy sounds tempting, we know, but your customers have come to expect this and so it is a necessary aspect to providing high-quality service and convenience to your consumers.
Your return policy should effectively:
- Build the necessary trust your customers need to have in your store to make a purchase.
- Be upfront about all the conditions for allowing returns. Let customers know what you can and cannot do for them.
- States how many days they have to return the product
- How they will receive the refund, whether through store credit, replacement, money back, etc.
- Who pays for the shipping.
- The supporting documents customers need to make a refund, like receipts, packaging, slips, etc.
Make sure to have all the necessary areas covered in your return policy. Here are some other necessary guidelines in creating your return policy:
1. Keep your return policy in plain sight
Don’t hide your return policy or leave it somewhere where your customers will have a hard time finding it. You can send out your return policy through confirmation emails or make it easily accessible from the checkout page.
2. Don’t use scary language
By that we mean avoid using strong imperatives such as phrases and words like “you must”, “you are required to”, and “we are not responsible for”. Just keep it friendly, and don’t scare your customer away with aggressive return policies. Your return policy should encourage purchase, not deter it.
3. Lay down expectations
The return policy should let your customers in on the guidelines and procedures for returns so that they know whether to expect a return or exchange, as well as who takes care of shipping costs.
4. Use plain language
Keep it simple for your customers so that they can understand your policy. You want to avoid any kind of misunderstanding or confusion here. Try to use plain, everyday language, and not something you would find in a legal dictionary.
5. Don’t just copy-paste another store’s policy
Your store is unique, so don’t go about copying somebody else’s return policy. Take care of the particulars that apply to your store and, of course, your target audience.
2. Make returns easy
Set yourself on the goal of providing easy and effortless returns, and your customers will thank you for an excellent hassle-free service. Nothing will annoy a customer more than a difficult return process, especially if the item shipped is wrong or defective. This can lead to negative reviews that your customers can take publicly on social media, leading to an injured reputation of your site. Take not that disloyal and unhappy customers are more likely to cost a company more in the long run, by spreading their negative experience to other would-be-buyers from your shop.
When customers are required to undergo a “high-effort” experience with your store, they consider this interaction to be negative. 96% of customers report that they will not be willing to make a repeat purchase from a store when faced with a stressful experience in returns.
Reducing customer effort, on the other hand, leads to higher satisfaction, because you are essentially providing your customer with a high-quality service.
The benefit of making returns easy for your customers far outweigh the negatives, especially when you consider the fact that easy returns drive loyalty and can lead to an increase in sales. Here is what easy returns can do for your online business:
- Creates positive word of mouth about your smooth services.
- It can potentially lead to repeat purchases as your customers stay loyal to you.
- Easy returns help you save time and money, by helping you avoid repeat calls from customers, as well as help you avoid losing revenue with customer retention.
3. Always treat your customer with respect
Your customers don’t want to be treated like numbers, they want to be treated as the unique and individual people that they are. So, no matter how unhappy or disappointed your customer may be, always treat them with respect by empathizing and remaining calm.
The thing about dealing with returns in dropshipping is that your customer might be upset. The appropriate response here isn’t to be upset yourself and then blame it on your supplier. No, you have to take responsibility and apologize to your customer.
Even though you are dropshipping, and many aspects regarding order processing and shipping are outside of your control, your customers probably don’t know or care to know what dropshipping is, all they know is that they bought the item from your store. Instead, try to focus on the solution, not the problem, and always take responsibility for the mistakes committed.
It is also important that you handle negative feedback from your disappointed customer with positivity, especially when faced with an angry customer. This can be alarming and uncomfortable for anyone at the receiving end of this type of behavior. In these instances, unwavering respect and empathy will see you through this situation. Just remember to apologize first, explain if you must, and then find a solution for your customer's source of displeasure. In the end, what a disgruntled customer really wants is to be listened to.
4. See if a return is necessary
There are instances where making a return is not necessary, especially when the request for a return does not fit the guidelines set by your return policy. The other instance when returns can be rendered unnecessary is when it simply isn’t worth the money to do so. In the instance where you ship out a defective item to your customer, even though you know the manufacturer is liable here, you must always compensate for returns and shipping fees. In many cases your supplier will also compensate for their mistake, so no worries.
When the item is relatively inexpensive, sometimes it's just better to send out a new item than to have your customer ship it back to you. Why pay $10 for shipping on an item that you got for less than $2, right? Often times, your supplier will send out a replacement item. If not, you can either cover the cost of the item or just ship them a new one.
The act of doing this can establish a lot of trust between you and the consumer, they will be certainly blown away by the gesture and pleased by your effort. Going the extra mile for a consumer is definitely one of the ways to establish a loyal customer base and getting repeat sales from the same customer.
5. Give your customers enough time
Before creating your return policy, you should give enough thought on how much time your customer can be allowed before closing off the return period. This can depend on what you are selling and what type of online store you are running.
Just keep in mind that the time period that you set for returns is another way of showing your customers that you are standing by the quality of your items and that you firmly believe in their ability to satisfy your customers. You don’t want to leave this period too short, but you certainly don’t want it to be too long, because some customers may take advantage of a generous return window.
The return period can be especially problematic for people buying items online as gifts because the people buying it aren’t the intended users of the items. For instance, a wife might buy her husband an electronic shaving kit in late November, only to find out on Christmas day that the item is defective.
Some shops stand by an extended return period during the holidays so that holiday shoppers can shop for gifts without much worry in the backs of their minds.
Ultimately, determining how long the return window is for your store is up to you, and dependent on the type of items you sell in your store. Just make sure that the time frame you set is customer-centric, while still managing to protect your store.
6. Protect your business
While we have been putting an emphasis on being generous to your customers when it comes to returns, it is also important that you protect your business from those who seek to abuse your generosity.
As a business owner, you need to protect your online store from dishonest customers who come to your store intending to commit some form of return fraud.
One way to avoid this is to keep a lookout for fraudulent customers who repeatedly return their purchases. This should be a clear red flag to any shop owners, and you should mark them as fraudulent and stop fulfilling their orders.
Most online businesses require customers to sign up before allowing purchases. With this, you can easily view a customer’s purchase history to see if they are dishonest or not.
Additionally, you must always demand for proof of purchase and proof that the item was received with customer signatures. In addition to that, all the necessary receipts and packaging are in place.
It is also necessary that you review your return policy. While you do want your return policy to be generous enough to allow your customer to feel confident about completing a purchase in your store, you don’t want it to be too open for the less than genuine types of customers. This means that you shouldn’t make returns too easy in your policy. To do this you can opt-out paying for return shipping, for instance. This should be one of the steps you can employ in avoiding customers who are making a purchase with the intent of returning the item at the expense of your store afterwards. Your reliable customers shouldn’t mind any of the necessary steps you choose to take to make dishonest customers think twice before making a purchase with you.
Back to you
Being able to manage returns smoothly says a lot about your business to your customer base. A well run and reliable establishment that can create a low effort return experience for their customers will thrive off of customer satisfaction and an increase in customer loyalty, while a store that makes it difficult can expect to lose current and prospective customers, so try to make your returns a positive experience for your consumers.
With the right approach, the correct mindset, and the right tools, you can turn the ecommerce plague of returns into your competitive advantage that leads to customer loyalty and the growth of your dropshipping business.
What’s your take on the best practices for ecommerce and dropshipping returns? Would you like to implement any of the methods mentioned in this article? At Ecommerce Pro, we love to discuss the future plans of online business ventures and share practical solutions to help you meet your dropshipping business goals. If you have any questions regarding this article, we would like to address them. Please feel free to begin a conversation with us today!
The E-Commerce Checklist
We have listed down the best practices in a checklist to ensure that your online business is ready for launching.