Returning products – “Oh, no, don’t do this, why do you want to do this? This looks damaged!” vs. “We’d love to refund your product, no questions asked! Thanks for shopping with us!”

1617973582_166918b45c_zHow should one company handle the policy for returning products?

First of all, have a look at the following video:

I think there are two major alternatives to handling a unsatisfied customer who wants to return a product:

  • One is friendly – “We made you sad? Oh, we’re so sorry. Sure, we will refund you. We have no questions regarding your usage of the product. Thank you for shopping with us.”
  • The other one is much more negative – “You made damage to the product” / “Who will buy this product from us now?” / “Our guarantee policy clearly states that …” / “You should pay for the transportation!” / “How could this product reach this look? What did you do?” / “We won’t return the product twice” / “We won’t refund in cash a payment made by card” / other similar answers.

What’s specific to the two situations?

  • In the first solution, the client is the king. He is asked no question, he faces no conditions, he gets his job done.
  • In the second option, the client faces a lot of bureaucracy, inquisitive questions, lots of rules.

For some types of customers, for some type of markets, it’s best that you are not the one who loses on things. The clients should know that you are in charge, and they shouldn’t expect a refund for any imaginable thing.

But for a lot of other situations, it’s best to be friends with the customers, even in tough times. What’s more than this is that you should do it especially in the tough times. If client X buys a dress, sees it doesn’t fit, she returns the dress and you promptly provide the money back, will the client feel happy? Probably. Will she buy again from you? The odds favor you. Will she speak nice of you to others? Again, good odds.

In Romania, there are a lot of stores where you can buy a laptop. Yet, most laptops in Romania are sold through eMAG. They even sell more laptops than physical stores. They are more powerful brand than any electronics store, be it online or offline, in Romania. There isn’t a single individual reason for this, but one thing which differentiates eMAG from others is that they allow the clients to return a product not in 10 days, like a usual store, but in 30 days. And they don’t ask questions. I’ve successfully returned a few products from them. And but a lot more others.

The feeling that I can buy a product and know that in 30 days I can return a product, no questions asked, is a great one. I would pay an extra fee just for that.

F64 Studio sells more photo cameras than any other store in Romania, their sales even compare to some more general online stores in Romania. How do they do it? One thing they do is that they offer an extra warranty. eMAG has a similar option, but F64 do this better. According to the people from Lifehacker (Are Extended Warranties Worth It?), the extra warranty is generally not worth it. But, even if I don’t pay the extra money for an extended warranty, the feeling that I could do this, and the store would assume the blame if things go wrong, make the added value high. I never bought an extra warranty like the one above, I prefer to save costs – in the long term, it’s more profitable. But I do trust these two store a lot more for offering services like these.

Now about the terms. Sure, you have to have a terms. If I buy an expensive camera, and come back with a yellow duck, claiming that this is what the camera converted itself into, you shouldn’t allow to return the product. If I bought a TV and I come back to get the refund, but the TV has a huge hole in the middle, then, surely, there will be talks. I don’t expect the store to lose money like that.

But don’t put absurd rules. Make the bureaucracy as small as possible. Help the visitor feel safe in your store. Make him trust you, and feel safe that, if things go wrong, his money & product is safe.

Avoid any arbitrary rules. For example, I bought an electronic watch for about 200 lei, many years ago. The watch broke. I went to the store and they offered me the option to replace the watch with an identical one or get a voucher to buy another product. I wanted a new watch, and I got it. Now the not-so-great part – they offered me no extra warranty for the new watch. But I could have opted for the voucher and bought the watch with a new warranty. Why put arbitrary rules like that?

Another example – I buy something, I come back with the product, you refund me. I buy a new product. Now you say I can’t refund twice. Don’t create such rules. It’s just wrong – I can get my money back and go shop someplace else. I don’t like the effort of returning a product & buying again, it’s not a pleasure to me either. Help me feel good with this process. If I can return a product and get the money back, then, if I choose to buy another product, treat this as if I would buy a brand new product. Don’t complicate things.

When you put the rules & terms, make them positive. Avoid “We don’t accept used clothing”, and use, instead “To return a product, it should look like brand new, never worn”. And don’t have an aggressive tone. If someone has returned a product and was aggressive, don’t be like that person yourselves. You may also add some feelings and personal notes to the return policy. “Imagine if you would buy a product from us. Would you like a dress which has been worn before, has stains or visible marks on it? Help us treat other clients as good as we treat you, and only return products which have a top look”.

You can provide some information on a need-to-know basis. If you only give money back via certain systems (PayPal, or bank transfers or cash), and if 95% of the customers don’t care about this information, you may safely provide when you return a product. But you should put it in the terms & conditions page.

When you create a policy for returning products, you should make the client feel safe. Help him think positively of you. Avoid a list of 10 don’ts. Instead, focus on the feelings, explain well why you need a clause, and offer reassurances.

Finally, compare apples with apples – sure, you will lose some merchandise if you have an “open” policy for returning product. Sure, you will have some products without a big value returned to you. But you will also gain trust of potential customers. In a lot of cases, that’s more valuable.

Bad case study:

  • The product should be intact. We won’t reimburse a product which has scratches. You have to return the product in the first 48 hours of submission. You have to pay the price of returning the product, even if the product’s fault were ours. You have to provide a valid explanation when returning a product. You won’t get a refund, you will get only a voucher to buy something else. The new product must cost more or equal to the original product, it can’t cost less. You will not receive any warranty for the new product. If we do provide you with warranty, the new warranty be only for the remaining warranty of the original product. If we decide to refund your money, the money can only be sent via PayPal. You must have a PayPal account in order for the refund policy to be valid.

Cool case study:

  • We will do our best to create a good product for you. But sometimes, you will not be happy with your initial choice. Stay assured, you can return the product not only within the 10 days the Romanian laws stipulate, but within a grace period of 30 days. No question asked. Our only condition is that the returned product be  in a similar state with the one it was bought. You can either receive a voucher to buy something else from our shop, or get your money back. If the product had a fault which was manufacturer’s problem, we will cover the transportation costs. Thank you for shopping with us!

As a final note, avoid having a rigid and obtuse set of rules for returning products. Instead, be friendly even in this process. And, if eMAG’s example means anything to you, be friendly especially for this process.

P.S.: Also see:

  • Seth’s Blog: They’re your words, choose them

  • Note: Also see the Yahoo! Group on which I present similar issues:IMRo. To join, email imro-subscribe@yahoogroups.com and reply to the confirmation email.

    I am a Freelancer. My expertise is in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) / UX (user experience) / WordPress. Co-founder of lumeaseoppc.ro (series of events on SEO & PPC) and cetd.ro (Book on branding for MDs). On a personal level, I like self-development - events, sports, healthy living, volunteering, reading. I live in London, and lots of things live in me.

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