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Even if a customer has had an excellent experience with a retailer through the buying and delivery process, returns is one area where things can go wrong.
Making the returns process easy and free for customers is one way to ensure they retain a positive impression of a retailer, even if the product wasn't suitable for them. This makes is more likely that they will return and make purchases in future.
Charging for returns is one sure-fire way to annoy customers and deter them from future purchase, so I've been looking at etailers' returns policies to see which ones are doing this...
I recently purchased (well, my wife did...) a lamp shade from Graham & Green only to find that it was too big for the lamp when it arrived. Having checked the website I was advised to use the returns label and send the item back.
I was forced to call customer services (which meant ten minutes in a call queue) and was then told they would collect the item and refund it, but would charge me £10 for this and deduct this from my £40 refund.
I understand that Graham & Green has costs to cover, but such a hefty charge for a return is likely to make me think twice before ordering anything from that site again.
The fact that this charge is not made clear in the returns policy is also annoying:
Retailers should do everything they can to minimise returns rates, by providing detailed product information, images, and product videos (the instructional product videos used by Simply Piste have done wonders for its returns rates), but a proportion of customers will still want to return items.
This may be because clothes don't fit as well as they thought when they try them on, something just doesn't look right when they see it at home, or it may be an unwanted gift - and there'll be plenty of them this Christmas.
While retailers have costs to cover, it may well be better to loom at average returns rates and factor this in to the costs of items and initial delivery charges rather than penalise customers for returning items.
I've been seeing how some online retailers handle this issue of returns...
For a multichannel retailer like Argos, the fact that customers can return items to their local store can make the process a lot easier for customers, and it is essential that multichannel retailers provide this option.
For customers that prefer not to return items to a store, Argos makes it nice and easy. Customers simply need to call up within 30 days to arrange a free collection. This is how it should be done.
Marks & Spencer has always had a no-hassle returns policy in its stores, and the online version is simple enough. The retailer offers free returns to stores or via freepost. Not as easy as having a collection arranged, but at least customers incur no costs.
The John Lewis returns policy is stricter, and will only refund the initial delivery charge if they are notified of a return within seven days of purchase. It isn't clear whether or not the costs of returning the item are covered by the retailer.
Next will collect any items you need to return, but will charge you if you want a refund for all of the items in your order. At £3.99, at least this charge isn't too steep, and there is a free return to store option.
Sports Direct's returns policy, shown on its product pages, is one that could deter customers from a purchase. The tone seems pretty harsh, and customers returning items will be charged for the initial delivery, and will have to pay the costs of return themselves.
I like the fact that Webtogs uses its 'zero hassle' returns policy as a selling point. It displays this clearly on the homepage and product pages:
There is a tiny bit of hassle though, as customers are charged £2.20 to return items, though at least this charge isn't too steep.
Glasses Direct is one company which has gained an excellent reputation for customer service, and its returns policy is as you would expect from such a retailer.
Glasses Direct gets around the fact that customers cannot try glasses on before they buy with a free returns policy, prominently displayed on the website.
Retailers need to work hard to retain customers, and a free returns policy is one way to achieve this. If customers know that they can return items if they need to, they're far more likely to make a purchase in the first place.
If charges for returns are steep, or they have to work too hard to return items, then this negative experience means they may not use that retailer again, online or offline. Retailers need to weigh up the cost of covering returns charges against the risk of losing customers.