Returns are an inevitable issue Shopify merchants will run into every holiday season. On average, 30% of customers will return what they bought from you during the holidays and many of those will be initiated in the first month following the holidays.
Why it’s important to have an easy returns policy during the holidays
You may have read the title of this article and thought, “hang on a minute, how can a customer be loyal if they’re returning orders?”. An easy returns policy is important when it comes to customer satisfaction - 74% of consumers say that an easy returns process can persuade them to buy from a retailer, and 95% say customer service is important for brand loyalty. Returns are part of the customer experience, and making them as easy and straightforward as possible only adds to a customer’s positive impression of your store. If a customer buys a product and it doesn’t quite meet their expectations then that’s a little bit disappointing, but then if they’re made to jump through hoops and go digging to find out how to initiate a return, that’s really disappointing. 62% of customers say they share a negative customer experience with others, which can be especially bad for your store given the people they tell could be potential customers. By creating a returns policy that’s both simple to initiate and easy to find on your store you’ll be able to take some of the frustration out of the process for customers and help them walk away with a positive opinion of your store.
What to consider when developing a returns policy
Your returns policy should benefit both you and your customers, not one over the other. Offering a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of what’s best for your business, and equally what’s best for your business shouldn’t create frustration and difficulty for your customer. Fear not, there is a happy middle ground - you just need to ask yourself the right questions:
- Is the process straightforward?
- Am I expecting my customer to do too much?
- If it were me, what would I want from the process?
For your store
- Is this returns policy financially viable?
- Which returns options work best for my business?
- What can I do with the returned stock?
Consider as well the reasons behind a return and how that might affect the process. Is it that the item hasn’t met expectations? Or perhaps the order has been damaged in transit? Understanding the return from your customer’s perspective helps to develop a policy that will benefit them as well as preparing you for different scenarios.
Writing a clear returns policy
During the holiday season, there can be many different reasons for returns to throughout the rest of the year. This is due to the fact that a lot of orders will be intended as gifts and there may be unforeseen circumstances such as an item of clothing not fitting the recipient, or they may already own a similar item. Here is what your policy should cover:
What items can and cannot be returned
With items like clothing this is fairly straightforward, but not everyone sells clothes! Consider what items you will actually be able to return to your inventory once returned to you. If you sell perishable items like food and drink, then it might not be possible to resell them so you’ll want to make sure it’s clear to the customer that they aren’t eligible for a return. In this case, perhaps you want to offer an exchange instead.
The condition an item is returned in will determine what you’re able to do with it after the return is complete. If an item is being returned due to damage in transit, then detail what you’ll be able to do for the customer. If an item is being returned due to it being unsuitable in some way - doesn’t fit, doesn’t meet expectations - then you need to specify it should be returned in a resellable condition i.e. tags intact, unopened etc.
Length of returns period
You might want to offer an extended returns period during the holiday season - people typically buy gifts in advance of the holidays – if your usual policy is 30 days, that might make it tight for your customers to initiate a return if they need to. In this case, you might extend it through the end of January. If you are offering return periods that are different from the rest of the year, make this clear on all orders placed during the holiday season and on your website. Specify what date this policy is valid from - e.g. all orders placed in November and December.
How to initiate a return
Perhaps one of the most important parts - how customers can actually start the returns process. Should they send an email? Contact you via a chatbot? Fill in a form? Or is there an option to initiate the return on the order confirmation page on their account? Either way, make it clear how customers can start a return and roughly how long it will take for it to be processed. E.g. it will take 1-2 days from receipt of the item in your warehouse for inspection, and 3-5 days after that for the refund or exchange to be processed.
How to return the item
Will you provide a returns label, or should the customer pay for postage themselves? This may depend on the size of your business if you’re able to offer free return shipping, but it’s important to set expectations for your customer either way. It will be frustrating for them if they aren’t aware in advance that they need to pay out of pocket to return an item.
Note: Shopify recently added support to generate return labels directly through your Shopify store for merchants based in the United States. Click here for more information.
Communicating the policy to customers
Writing the policy is the first step; the next is making sure it’s easy for your customers to find. In the run up to the holidays you do want to give your returns policy more attention both on your site and off, so that customers are fully aware of it when making a purchase.
On your website
The most important place to display details about your returns policy is on your FAQ. Add a separate section related to the holidays, so that people can find the most relevant information to their order.
Have a tab on your product pages that displays information about your returns policy so customers can be informed from the moment they consider a purchase.
Include the information or a link to your returns policy somewhere on the Cart page so customers can have a look at it before hitting “Checkout” – especially if you’re offering an extended returns period for the holidays.
If customers are new to your brand and are shopping for a gift, it might help to know about your returns policy as soon as they land on your homepage. You can include it as a pop-up or banner advertising extended returns terms.
In your marketing material
Perhaps the most important place to display returns information is in any order related emails to customers. Include links and details in all order emails, as well as sending an automated email detailing the returns process close to the holidays letting them know about any holiday specific terms and conditions. This will also be helpful if they need to pass along the returns info to a gift recipient so they don’t need to show the price!
Additional Email Campaigns
You should include links to your returns info and customer service in all your holiday campaigns as well as automations so customers can easily find the information if they need it. It also helps to show potential customers that your process is easy and straightforward, so they can make that purchase and know you’ve got them covered if they need to return it.
Given how important having this clear process is for customers buying gifts, it makes sense to have a couple of social media posts dedicated to your super simple returns process, right?
The holidays can be stressful for a number of reasons - take some weight off your customers’ mind and make it simple for them to return orders if they need to. By making their lives a little bit easier, you’ll be rewarded with their loyalty and they’ll share their positive experience with friends and family.