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The Gift of Hassle-Free Returns

Black Friday and Cyber Monday were a strong start to the 2007 holiday shopping season. According to National Retail Federation, more than 147 million consumers hit the stores on Black Friday weekend, a 4.8 percent growth from last year. And online shoppers spent a record $733 million the following Cyber Monday, according to comScore Inc., a leading internet market research firm.

While this is great news for e-tailers, one thing is inevitable: holiday exchanges and returns. And with such a robust shopping season, it's possible that a robust return season will follow.

Retailers have to provide a hassle-free shopping experience from start to finish to attract and retain consumers--and that includes an easy return process. In fact, a painless return process can help keep the online momentum strong through the season and the new year.

According to the fourth annual survey sponsored by Austin, Texas-based returns processor Newgistics Inc. and commissioned by Harris Interactive, for the third year in a row, at least nine out of 10 direct shoppers cited a convenient return policy as very important, important or somewhat important in deciding to shop with a new or unknown online or catalog retailer. Additionally, 69 percent of respondents said they aren't likely to shop again with a direct retailer if the return process is inconvenient. Furthermore, 68 percent of respondents said the ability to make a return from home was very important or important when deciding whether to shop with an online or catalog retailer.

Given these statistics, here are five tips for a hassle-free return process:

  • Display your return policy on your website. This helps e-tailers by preventing questions later on. It's also a good idea to make sure your return policy is visible in other places as well. For example, your order confirmation and shipping status e-mails should include a link to your return policy. Also, include return policy information in your packaging materials when you ship your customer's purchase.
  • Be as specific as possible in your return policy. Let your customers know exactly what they need to do when returning something to you. Don't be afraid to explain to them that you have different procedures for different types of merchandise or even various types of boxes and packaging.
  • Tell your customers to save their original paperwork and packaging. While this may seem like an afterthought, you'll be happy when sorting through returns to have all of the original paperwork, boxes and packaging material from customers.
  • Treat returns as a chance to get return customers. Remember that a good return and exchange policy makes for satisfied customers, repeat purchases and increased sales over the long run. Although you may sometimes receive returns that don't meet your return policy guidelines--such as products that aren't brand new or not in the original packaging--consider accepting the items and knowing you'll have a return customer because of it.
  • Create an outlet section on your site. This allows you to have a special section on your site where you can sell returned merchandise. In addition, you can also sell the returns on Yahoo! Auctions.

Melissa Campanelli is a leading expert in small business e-tailing. She is also the co-author of several books on e-business, including Open an Online Business in 10 Days, as well as editor-in-chief of eM+C, eMarketing and Commerce, a Target Marketing Publication, which covers the world of e-commerce and e-marketing for traditional marketers.

Melissa Campanelli is a technology writer in Brooklyn, New York, who has covered technology for Mobile Computing & Communications and Sales & Marketing Management magazines. You can reach her at mcampanelli@earthlink.net.

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