Today, an “easy” return means an item can be returned if it’s in good condition and has been sent or brought back within a reasonable timeframe.

Joe Schultz - Harbor Retail

Joe Schultz, vice president of sales at Harbor Retail

While it’s obviously in the best interest of retailers to do what they can to minimize returns, they are an inevitable fact of the modern shopping experience. That means that your store’s return policy reflects the customer experience—and negative events influence future purchases.

Research shows that 96% of shoppers would return to a business that offered an “easy” or “very easy” return policy, and 62% said they “would buy again” from online retailers offering free returns. In other words, customers care about your return policy, and you will be rewarded for facilitating it.

Rise of ‘easy’ return policy

We all remember a time when the burden of a return was placed on the customer, who was expected to retain all packaging and receipts. Those days are over. These days, packaging requirements have loosened, and proof of purchase can be verified by the retailer if the customer has the credit card that was used at the time of sale. Today, an “easy” return means the customer knows an item can be returned if it’s in good condition and has been sent or brought back within a reasonable timeframe.

What can you do to make your return policy—and therefore your service—more appealing to customers? Here are a few suggestions:

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    1. Streamline the process
      Your customers should be readily aware of the specifics of your return policy, so spell it out wherever they shop. On the wall, at the counter, on the cash register, on your website or social media profile, or in your email marketing — make it clear exactly how your return policy works.

      At the same time, make sure that your employees are trained to perform returns quickly and without fuss. Your return protocol should be so clear that employees never have to make decisions, just implement the policy. Be sure that any necessary form-filling or paperwork is simple and that your staff is competent with any computer programs that are involved.

    2. Turn returns into exchanges
      The majority of shoppers are looking to make an exchange rather than a mere return, so capitalize on this. When customers do end up seeking a replacement through a different retailer, the most frequently reported reasons are because the item was out of stock or because of a negative return experience. Make their experience great and be sure to have what they’re looking for.
    3. Accommodate the en masse returners
      These days, it’s common for shoppers to buy the same item in a range of colors and sizes so they can try it on at home and return whatever didn’t work. While some businesses have taken steps to prevent this, there’s nothing wrong with this approach. Find ways to make it easier on consumers—and even encourage it.
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    5. Market your simple policy
      Retailers like Kohl’s, CVS, and Walgreens are working to make it easier for customers to buy online but return on-site. This is a wise course considering 74% of customers say they are more likely to make a purchase if they have this option. New services are popping up to make this process less taxing for smaller retailers.

Remember that a negative return experience translates into a negative shopping experience, and that it takes 12 positive shopping experiences to neutralize a single negative one. So make your return policy easy, train your staff to facilitate the process, and never shame a customer for making a return.

That way returned items turn into return shoppers.

Harbor Retail creates artificial intelligence, virtual scanning technology and robotics used by retailers.

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