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Tips for Handling Holiday Returns

Establish a return policy that will create return buyers.

As much as every business rolls out the red carpet for holiday sales, they must also throw open the door to accept post-season returns.

Although some business owners worry that returns will drain their year-end profits and even lead to a drop in customer satisfaction, the truth is that, when handled with grace and confidence, returns can actually boost your business results.

Here’s how to prepare for post-holiday returns, manage them with greater ease and potentially convert a returned-item situation into the potential to grow your return customer base.

Set your expectations for returns

To get off to a good start, understand that returns happen no matter how nice your items are or how spectacular your customer service is.

Understand that returns happen no matter how nice your items are or how spectacular your customer service is

Not every gift given turns out to be exactly what its recipient wants, needs or can use. It’s reasonable, then, to expect that items bought from you as gifts might wind up being returned. Few people enjoy the need to return products, anxious that the process will be awkward or unsatisfying.

For you and your business, this is an opportunity to help that gift recipient get something that truly suits and pleases him despite the best intentions of the gift giver.

Expect that you’re likely to receive requests for the return or exchange of an item now that the holidays are behind us, and set the stage to make that process as easy and enjoyable as possible, for you and the customer.

Set your customers’ expectations

While customers shop where they expect to find the merchandise they’re seeking, especially when intended as a gift, specific goods are not the only motivation for shoppers.

An Internet retailing survey concluded that roughly 60 percent of shoppers indicated easy and hassle-free returns or exchanges were a top consideration when deciding where to make a purchase. This becomes your opportunity to attract customers to buy from you, while providing your clear and concise return and exchange policy.

Here’s how to set the right customer expectations in the event of a return:

  • Provide highly visible banners or links regarding your return policy. If you’ll boast hassle-free returns, say so on your store’s main page. Also, as your customers navigate to the checkout process, provide easy-to-see information regarding returns, refunds and exchanges.
  • Make it clear what can be returned, exchanged or refunded. While an open return policy is a draw for some customers, it can also open sellers up to whimsical shoppers who buy everything in sight with intentions to return the goods after they’ve decided what to actually give as gifts.
  • Say how long shoppers have to return items, and you’ll head off those yet-to-have-decided buyers. Be absolutely clear about the condition and completeness of any item that is being returned. Opened items might or might not be acceptable for return (e.g. software, music, etc.).
  • If any items will not be eligible for returns, indicate that clearly with a phrase like, “Sorry, but no returns, exchanges or refunds can be granted for this product.”
You don’t need to offer a “no questions asked” return policy to attract customers. You can successfully gain the confidence of customers when you establish a reasonable policy

You don’t need to offer a “no questions asked” return policy to attract customers. You can successfully gain the confidence of customers when you establish a reasonable set of return and exchange conditions that will provide help, and resolution to customers who might need to return an item.

Be mindful of fraud

Yes, unfortunately, some shoppers will seek to exploit a seller’s return policies, sometimes looking to make an illicit gain in the process. Fend off fraudsters by including a couple of extra conditions within your return policy:

  • Indicate that all returns are subject to inspection before a refund or exchange will be granted. This will help to thwart buyers who may buy your item then attempt to return a similar but inferior item in its place.
  • Establish the conditions under which you’ll offer cash refunds—some sellers give these only with proof of purchase (an original receipt) else they’ll offer store credit instead.

Be of good cheer

Returning items can be something of a hassle for buyers (or their gift recipients) as much as it is for sellers honoring the return. From the seller’s standpoint, you can make the process smoother if you greet the situation with the same friendliness and assurance as you do when transacting a purchase.

Court this customer as you would a first-time shopper, and it’s likely he’ll not only be satisfied with this unforeseen return experience, but that he might return to make additional purchases

Greet the item bearer, listen to his needs and review how your return policy can resolve the situation. Give the shopper his options in making the return and help him choose the best alternative.

Court this customer as you would a first-time shopper, and it’s likely he’ll not only be satisfied with this unforeseen return experience, but that he might return to make additional purchases from you in the future.

Returns are a part of selling and should be expected. Establish your return policy with empathy for the customer, much as you’d hope to receive when you need to return an item. Make your policy clear and easily visible whenever your customers are making purchases from you.

Then be sure to review the details of your policy to ensure they meet your customers’ needs as well as that of your business. Make adjustments as needed; possibly even creating special seasonal provisions. Take the trouble out of post-holiday returns and you’ll open your business to attract more customers for your effort.

About the author

Dennis L. Prince
Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay...and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

  • Hoosier Daddy

    We didn’t have any “holiday” sales. We DID have a lot of CHRISTMAS sales though.
    I’m sorry that you’re participating in the atheists’ War on Christmas.

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your limited December sales. Maybe you’ll get them next year.

      Thank God my sales weren’t limited to Christmas gifts. Luckily, I also had quite a few Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa sales. Plus there was a smattering of December birthdays, along with traditional New Year’s hostess gifts. None of those sales, at least as far as I know, were to atheists. But hey, you never know! I rarely ask my customer’s religion before processing a purchase.

      If there exists any kind of “War on Christmas,” you’d never know it by my holiday sales! They were awesome! But then, I’m not carrying a huge chip on my Christian shoulder. I welcome ALL buyers . . . even atheists.



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