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Making returns simple
Khalid Isar
Khalid Isar
Country General Manager- India,
Khalid heads operations in India as the Country General Manager and is responsible fo... more>>
E-commerce has emerged as a serious game changer to India’s retail industry. Online shopping in India is on a rise and it will only witness significant growth in the years to come.

Traditionally for Indians, buying decisions have always been based on the touch and feel of the product. However, even as more and more consumers move from brick to click in order to avail better offers, larger variety and shopping convenience, it is difficult to break away from the traditional mindset. As such, Indian consumers maintain their need for visibly inspecting their purchases which means online retailers in India need to evolve to find innovative policies to attract and sustain customers. Cash on Delivery in payment terms and Returns Policies have since become decisive factors in choosing an e-commerce platform from which to buy. Industry reports have suggested that cash on delivery models may actually erode margins of Indian retailers as they grapple with returned products.

However, dealing with sales returns doesn’t have to be a painful experience for internet retailers or for the consumers. Here are some suggestions on how to make the process go smoothly for business owners and nurture a positive relationship with their customers throughout.

Meet customers' expectations
In an ideal world, no one would ever feel the need to return a product. But there's no accounting for taste, and one person's idea of a perfect gift can be another's definition of unnecessary clutter. Even so, you can try and prevent returns before they happen by making sure a customer's expectations are fully met. Give detailed, accurate product descriptions on your website and ensure the photos are representative so the person who buys the present knows exactly what they're giving.

Allow the return
There are few thriving bricks-and-mortar stores that don’t accept returns, and the same should go for online retailers. Customers will feel more comfortable knowing they have the option of bringing back an item they’re not happy with, whether it's for a full refund, an exchange or a credit note. If you make it clear that all sales are not final, it indicates you have full confidence in your product. There will always be a small percentage of customers who aren’t satisfied, particularly if they received the product as a gift, so be sure to account for this in your budget.

Keep it clear
There’s nothing like a confusing returns policy to make customers feel frustrated. In your summary text as well as the complete policy, go for clear wording and avoid any complex legal jargon so there can be no doubt about what your rules are. Aim for friendly, open language to show people you’re just as happy to accept an unwanted return as you are to charge them for their purchase. This means avoiding threatening terms like 'must' and 'we will not be responsible' and instead emphasizing your willingness to help.

Choose a time frame
While you may not be able to give customers a whole year in which they're free to return an unwanted gift, it's important to state exactly how long they have to decide if they’re going to keep it. Return policies vary from retailer to retailer, and many of them now have tiered policies whereby different classes of products must be returned sooner than others. Whether it's 30, 60, 90 or 120 days, make the time frame clear to customers so there's no room for interpretation. It's a good idea to have a separate time period for damaged or malfunctioning goods, as this will build customer confidence too.

Show and tell

Don't trip up your clients by hiding your returns policy away. Mark it clearly on your website, on receipts, in the package and on consumer correspondence so they know exactly what they’re dealing with. And keep all staff fully informed of what the policy is to avoid any confusion or hold-up during the returns onslaught.

List the requirements
Customers need to be absolutely sure of what's required of them when they’re returning a gift. Can they give it back once it's been opened? Does it need to be in its original packaging? Should they include the receipt? Think about all the requirements for your policy and make sure these are properly communicated to your customers.

Pay for postage
Offering to pay for the postage of the return may seem like a hefty expense, but it will build brand loyalty in the long run and show that customer satisfaction is important to you. Whatever you do, avoid any nasty, hidden costs for your customers. If you do decide not to cover the costs of postage in certain circumstances, make sure this is totally clear to clients from the outset.

A stream of promotional emails can be annoying for customers and is likely to end up in their junk mail. But in the case of returns, communication is key. Keep them informed at every step of the way, by sending out alerts when a return is received, processed and when the follow-up is completed. It will save a small business a lot of time and hassle in dealing with calls from anxious customers.

Don't go it alone
If you're a small business, the prospect of dealing with a huge volume of returns can be daunting. You can minimise the fuss by outsourcing your fulfilment and returns to another company. You just pay a fee and they deal with the rest, saving you time and hassle. But make sure you do research and pick a firm that will meet your requirements.

Make the most of returns

Instead of dreading about the post sales return workload, look on it as an opportunity to create a positive relationship with your customers. Use the process to gather feedback about why they aren't happy with their gift, so steps can be taken to improve their experience the next time. If the customer is pleased with the transaction, it will increase the chance if them purchasing from you in the future. What's more, a friendly returns policy can give unsure shoppers the confidence they need to hit the 'buy' button.
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