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The Wall Street Journal carried an article last week about the problems consumer electronics etailers are having with returns.

Only 5% of returns were due to defective products and etailers spent $13.8m (£7bn) reselling returned products, so how best to deal with what is clearly a major issue? 

A returns policy should ideally be as clear and flexible as possible. Online retailers certainly don't want to discourage potential buyers by making it difficult to return their purchases.

Some tips to limit the number of returns:

  • An Accenture survey which accompanied the WSJ article found that 68% of returns on electronics goods had nothing to do with any faults with the item, but that customers didn't understand how the products works.

    This problem could be reduced by providing clearer instructions on the use of complex electronic equipment. People can be put off by long instruction booklets, so keeping these as simple as possible is one solution.

  • Provide more support for customers. After sales support, such as a help line to talk customers through setting up their laptop of DVR could stop some returns.
  • A useful technical help section on the retailer's website would also help reduce returns, by giving some information to customers who are having troubles setting up their new TV or using their new digital camera.
  • Give customers more information before they buy. If customers can choose the product that is right for them, they are less likely to want to return it.

    Comet provides a good example of this, with a comprehensive 'Knowledge Centre' providing information on its full range of electrical products:

    Comet Knowledge Centre

  • One tip from the WSJ article is to let customers personalise products. Sony offered customers the chance to have their name engraved on Vaio laptops. Now, return rates on these products are below 1%, though this solution won't be relevant for many items.

These tips may work for electrical goods and some other items, but it is still important to make it easy for customers to return products if they want to.

A clear, no-hassle, returns policy could make the difference in the customer's decision to purchase, while customers are more likely to shop again with a retailer who makes this easy.

See this article for some tips on managing your online returns policy .

Related research:
Online Customer Service Solutions 2007

Related stories:
Returning online purchases is too much hassle - survey
10 tips on improving online customer service

Graham Charlton

Published 13 May, 2008 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (2)

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Internet Business Broker

Good advice for etailers. As the former owner of hammocks.com and strollers.com we reduced returns and damaged goods to under 2% once we implemented better instructions, descriptions and a 24 hr toll free #
David Fairley

about 8 years ago

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Mark van den Ing

Nice article for a electronic quipment perspective. As a online retailer in martial arts clothing I see different figures with regards to the total number of returns. At this moment we have a 15% returns of our sales. Reasons vary but most returns come back due to the incorrent size of the product. Sometimes this is quite frustrating since cotton can shrink a lot after washing. So what we did is put out a clear return policy (see website for example PDF with is sent with each shipment) and included washing instructions / extra notification about the product size. We already see a drop in returns but it stays hard when selling clothing.

Any other category specialists in clothing feel similar or want to share some thoughts?

about 5 years ago

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