Why a great returns policy will keep your customers coming back for more

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By Adam Clark

Australian consumers are increasingly aware of their consumer rights to repair, replace or refund for problems with goods as guaranteed by Australian Consumer Law.

Consumers aren’t always entitled to a return if they simply change their mind or find it cheaper elsewhere but many Australian retailers recognise that a reasonable returns policy helps build customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. This can potentially turn a smaller, short term product return into a longer and more profitable customer relationship.

Having a good returns policy or product guarantee in place is a highly valued service for potential customers, particularly for online retailers. In a virtual retail environment, a returns policy may help to give customers that extra bit of confidence they need to make the purchase.

Product returns however can have a tendency to place additional pressure and work on customer service teams, particularly during busy periods. The last thing any retailer wants is to add stress to their staff and frustration for the customer. Streamlining your returns process can transform your customer service, making life easier for your team and your customers.

Here are four things you can do.

1. Highlight your returns policy

It’s vital your returns policies are clearly stated and posted visibly online, in packages and in-store. Customers don’t want to have to spend their time searching for the information and reading the fine print, so keep it in obvious spots that receive plenty of eye traffic. Doing this will free customer service teams to focus on other customer enquiries.

It’s important to keep in mind that some customers prefer to solve their own problems without additional assistance. Self-service tools such as an Frequently Asked Questions page, forum or knowledge base can help all elements of customer service and particularly the returns process.

Offer a variety of options for customers to approach the returns process on their own with minimal effort and lay out clearly defined policies that address several types of return situations.

2. Provide a great customer experience across all platforms

The line between bricks-and-mortar stores and your online storefront should be unnoticeable to customers. Ensuring consistency across the customer journey is so important, whether customers are visiting your store, website or mobile app. It will help foster trust and loyalty in your customers.

Whichever channels you choose to offer customers the opportunity to buy from, they all need to have systems in place to cater to unsatisfied customers.

For those retailers that don’t have physical locations available in every area of the country, customers will seek methods to quickly return items that do not involve traveling far. By providing customers with easy-to-find return labels and policies, those who do not wish to return to a physical store are provided with a hassle-free way to return their products.

Likewise, shipped products should include clear instructions about in-store return policies. Consider including the address and contact information for the nearest store location, personalised to each customer. Subtle nuances can go a long way in helping customers achieve maximum happiness in the returns process.

If you have popular products that frequently sell out, offering ship-to-store options can keep customers coming back. The knowledge that any product is available, no matter its current in-store availability, will drive in-store visits and maintain customer satisfaction.

This option has been perfected by UGG Australia stores with its ‘click and collect’ service, which offers customers the ability to order online and pick up in store as a quick and easy way to get their purchase. The retailer has found the act of going into a bricks-and-mortar store for pick-up means customers are more easily able to exchange for a different size or style on the spot versus just returning the item. In addition, customers are more likely to buy something else should the product they ordered not be quite what they expected.

3. Look beyond Australia’s borders 

Online retailing has opened up a new global customer base for many Australian retailers, whether that be across the ditch to our neighbours in New Zealand or further afield to Asia, Europe and the Americas.

When customers are placing orders from outside Australia, have procedures in place for to ensure these customers are able to easily connect with customer service representatives or ship their products back.

Despite the added complexity that international shipping, customs and international financial refunds bring to the table, opening a business up to a much bigger customer base has many advantages. While many retailers avoid international expansion due to the troubles of international shipping, if you choose to sell outside Australia you must support that with a returns policy that is as strong and simple as the service you offer to Australian customers.

An option that often influences purchase decisions for international customers is the ability to ship a product back for free, using a pre-paid return label. United Kindgom-based retailer ASOS has found enormous success with Australian consumers by offering return shipping to an Australian location and processing product returns on-shore before returning the stock to the UK.

4. Minimise the likelihood of returns

This final point is an important approach and one that will save you time and money. We’ll start with the most obvious suggestion of ensuring that all your products are in good condition when they leave the store or warehouse; if there is a common product or shipping location that attracts a high number of returns, it’s important to identify this quickly and address any issues. The same should be said for working with a delivery company that you trust to ship products to customers on time and in working order.

Use good product images online—professional, eye-catching, and with sufficient resolution. If you can, include more than one image per item, especially if it’s clothing or furniture where customers will want to see it from different angles, and allow for zoom functionality. The more clear and realistic idea customers have of what they are buying, the fewer unwanted surprises when the product arrives.

Savvy e-commerce players are building customer support features into the checkout process, such as live chat, so that customers can reach out for support or have their questions answered at the time of purchase should they have any reservations about the product. This means customers know what to expect when the product arrives, therefore limiting the likelihood of returns.

Adam Clark is regional vice president of sales for Australia and New Zealand at Zendesk.


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