Zappos.com is known for having a great returns policy. But, what exactly makes Zappos.com stand out from the crowd? It all comes down to these three elements: it’s easy to understand, it’s easy to use, and it encourages customers to join a rewards program.
Looking at Zappos.com, your first thought is probably, “That’s great! But what can I do to improve my own business’s return policy?”
For starters, keep in mind that there is not a one-size-fits-all policy. What’s right for a large ecommerce company like Zappos.com might not be the right fit for your company. You just need to set yourself apart from your own competitors and do so in a simple and professional manner.
To help you get started, ShipStation published a blog post to guide customers through the initial steps needed to build a returns strategy and address the questions you need to ask yourself that only you can answer. There isn’t one policy that will work for everyone, so take the time to really think through these questions and what will work best for your own unique business.
What’s your company’s current timeframe for accepting returns? Is it a couple of weeks from receipt of the package? Maybe a month? Less than both? That needs to change (unless your product is perishable).
Think of your returns timeframe as your mark of confidence — you believe in your product so much that you’re willing to offer returns for X days. Think of it this way: if you’re shopping online and find two similar products from two different stores, are you going to buy the one with the 14-day returns policy or the 60-day policy? Definitely the 60-day policy! That’s freedom for the customer.
Especially around the holiday season, it’s always smart to extend that timeframe. After all, a lot of folks are buying gifts that may not be received immediately and even then, may not be used for a while.
We recommend something in the ballpark of 60-90 days during most of the year and bumping that out even longer around the holidays. Again, this needs to be contingent on what you sell and also the condition the product is in when it comes back to you.
When are your customers allowed to return something? What circumstances need to be met for a return to be successfully granted and a refund issued? What you need to determine here is what qualifies a return. Are sale items exempt from returns (unless the product is damaged)? What if the tags are removed or the product has been removed from its packaging?
Maybe you require photos of the package as it arrived and the product itself if the customer states that it’s damaged. Most apparel has a caveat along the lines of, “Never worn, in its original condition.” That means if you get it back and there’s a giant ice cream smear, you don’t have to accept the return.
So what are your product caveats, if any? If you have limitations for returns, this is where you need to state them. No customer wants to be surprised with criteria after they’ve initiated the process.
This one is more for you and less for your customers. What shipping service are you going to use to get your product back to you? How important is speed in this instance? What about tracking?
Slower is cheaper, but too cheap means no tracking. We always recommend tracking — either you should have the product, or your customer should. FedEx and UPS Ground are good for returns and so is USPS Parcel Select.
This is a big one. How do you want to handle requests to return a product? The tried-and-true method comes down to your customer contacting you in some way — support ticket, chat, email, phone call — to receive approval on a return.
Depending on whether or not you need proof for the reason of return (damaged upon receipt, for example), you might be able to completely bypass this step. So instead of playing email tag, tying up your resources while you and the customer wait for responses, we recommend customer-initiated returns.
Customer-initiated returns mean you are hands-off. Zappos.com, for example, has its customers log in to their Zappos.com account. From there, customers can create a return label relatively quickly. No interaction with a support team and no lag in email responses or returned calls. Just a return label and the instructions on how to proceed. While you may not be Zappos.com, you can still easily implement customer-initiated returns into your strategy.
It bears repeating that whatever you do has to work for your company. By asking yourself these questions initially, you’ll be headed in the right direction to turn your returns policy into a win for both you and your customers.