It’s easy to want to protect your sales, and never allow a return. In fact, by the time your website is live, you will probably have your product in such great shape that you can’t even imagine someone even wanting to return it. But returns happen and it’s important to have the right return policy. Returns tell you if a product fits true to size, it tells you if your quality matches up to the price point and if your product copy sizes up to the product. As a result, returns are a great litmus test for startups and growth stage brands alike.
When you first launch as a startup, your initial customers will be early adopters, friends and family. They will be the least likely to make returns because the generosity of your initial customer makes them more open to hiccups in packaging, sizing, and quality. They are also the most likely to tell you what went wrong, so this is an excellent group to send post-purchasing surveys. If your return policy is less than generous, this will also work with this group.
The next wave of customers will come from your social media, press and word of mouth so they will be less tolerant. They’re buying your product based on a recommendation. They may even be looking at your return policy before they close the sale. To capture this customer, where the scale really happens, you need to have a proper return policy that is competitive with other brands in the market. So let’s dive into what that might look like:
The Limitless Return
Nordstrom offers a return policy that rivals no other because you can return almost anything there and they’ll accept it. They will take products that are months old – and worn! This type of return policy exudes a great amount of confidence. Customers know they can shop with ease. Offering this type of policy might seem scary, but it does say something when you offer a “money back guarantee”.
A 30 Day Limit
If you can’t offer an unlimited return policy (not many people do), implementing a 30 day policy is the next step down. You also have options here. You can offer 30 days in addition to stating the garments must be returned in re-saleable condition or a no-matter-what 30 day return policy. Assess your options and decide what you can stand by.
The Quick Turnaround
Beyond 30 days, we get into 14-day and 7-day return policies. These policies are short, but they still don’t scare the consumer. If you are a startup, then instating these policies can work too – they just don’t sound as good.
Aside from determining the length of the policy, you must decide if they get a full refund or exchange and at what length of time. It’s not uncommon to see an exchange policy that lasts 30 days (returned in saleable condition), and a full refund within 14 days. You can decide the rules here, but it’s important to remember that you are cultivating the customer relationship.
So how much do actual returns impact your bottom line? Anywhere between 15-25% of your sales may be returned. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s feedback. If your returns are lower – amazing! If your returns are higher – you’ve got a problem.
Your product assortment will impact your returns.
If you are creating sized products (clothing, shoes, etc.), you may get higher returns as customers figure out what size they are. They might buy in multiples and return sizes that don’t work. Make sure you have an accurate size chart that makes sense, and include UK and US sizing if you plan to sell to an international audience.
Your images and copy will impact your returns.
Photograph all the nuances of your product before you launch it. What are the bells and whistles? Show scale. Customers want to know how big or small this item is. List the measurements of your model and the size they are wearing, this will help shoppers understand what they should wear. For product copy, write about the details, fit and sheerness of your product. If you are selling sheer shirts, you should certainly show it in the picture but the copy is equally as important. Tip: Your copy will also help with your SEO.
Actually Writing Your Return Policy
Here’s some example copy you can use to help you write your policy. This example is taken from barneys.com.
If you are not delighted with your purchase, Barneys New York offers complimentary returns: simply return the item in its original condition within 30 days for a full refund, less any original shipping costs if applicable.
To receive a refund based on purchase price of the item(s) and in the original form of payment:
- All merchandise must be returned within 30 days of the original purchase date.
- The merchandise must be unworn, in saleable condition with tickets attached.
- The merchandise must not be altered.
Sale merchandise may not be returned after 30 days. Requests for price adjustments will be honored if the merchandise was purchased at full price and if it is marked down within 7 days of receipt of your package. Not returnable at any time: Food perishables, lingerie, swimwear without the original adhesives, antique jewelry and clothing, pierced earrings, women’s eveningwear and any item marked Final Sale.
RETURNING YOUR ITEM
Complete the return section on the packing slip and include it with your merchandise. For your convenience, we have included a pre-paid United States Postal Service (USPS) return label with your packing slip. Simply complete your name and address and affix the return label to the outside of your package. We suggest that you retain a record of the return tracking number for future reference. If you do not have the return form, you may include the shipment notification email as your proof of purchase. Please include a note with your order stating why you are returning the merchandise.
You may use the original packaging, however, be sure to black out or cover any additional ship labels that may be on your return package.
Your return package can be dropped off at any US Post Office, or given to your USPS carrier. Please obtain a receipt for tracking purposes.
Barneys.com offers complimentary returns on all U.S. orders. No fee will be deducted from your return.
If you choose to use a different return method or you no longer have the pre-paid label, please return your item to the following address:
BNY Web Returns
1201 Valley Brook Avenue
Lyndhurst, NJ 07071
Same Day Delivery Returns
For orders placed with Same Day Delivery, please contact our Customer Service team who can assist you with a return request. They can be reached at 888-222-7639 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fine Jewelry and Barneys Vintage Returns
Fine jewelry and watches greater than $10,000, as well as Barneys Vintage purchases, cannot be returned using the enclosed pre-paid USPS label. Instead, you should return your package via the carrier of your choice with return signature required. For your protection, fine jewelry and Barneys Vintage returns should be insured for their full value. Note that all Barneys Vintage returns will be inspected upon receipt back at our warehouse. You will be contacted by our Customer Service team if there are any questions related to the merchandise being returned.
A couple don’ts:
- Don’t charge your customer for returns. It isn’t classy. Make it easy for them by emailing a label to print out.
- Don’t hide your contact info so that customers can’t find you.
- Don’t get upset when you get an email asking to return an item. It’s not the customer’s fault.
Remember: Returns are part of doing business and something to account for in your financial projections.
Syama Meagher is the Chief Retail Strategist at Scaling Retail, the global consulting firm that works with startup and growth stage businesses. Scaling Retail focuses on the integration between sales, marketing, merchandising and operations. Brands with ideas, samples or those looking to scale work with Scaling Retail. If you are just getting started, download the Launch E-book. Get in touch at www.ScalingRetail.com.