How Should you Handle Customer Returns?

You’ve launched your online shop, sent your products out into the world – and now some of them are coming back! What’s the best way to handle a return to an e-commerce store?

Do I Have to Accept Returns?

Yes. The distance selling regulations in the UK say that any customer who has bought a good or service at a distance (including online, through a catalogue, by phone) has the right to cancel within 14 days. If the item has already been shipped out, they must return it, but they still have the right to change their mind and get a refund. You can see more government advice for e-commerce businesses online here.

Set Expectations and be Clear

It’s hard to be disappointed when you get exactly what you expected. Set out your terms and conditions for returns clearly on your website and refer to them during the check out process so your customers know what to expect if the item isn’t suitable. This should include giving an address and packaging request for returns (e.g. ‘please return all items in their original packaging to 123 Our Road…’).

Who Pays For Shipping?

It’s important to let customers know if you expect them to pay the cost of shipping a returned item back to you – if you don’t explicitly say they’ll have to, the default is that you (the business) pay shipping costs.

Don’t Get Defensive

You do good work, sell a good product, and the customer got what they ordered (they did get what they ordered, right?) so why would they be upset? When you own and run a small e-commerce shop, personal involvement drives your business. Unfortunately, defending your business to an irate customer can just make them more cross. Instead, it’s better to listen, sympathise and try to make yourself into their ally.

Be Prepared For it to Hurt

If a product is returned, you are going to make a loss. You need to accept this before you get your first return, and be prepared to make a further sacrifice to keep your customer happy. If you run a very small business, it’s a good idea to think about what you can afford to spend to make a customer happy. If you’re selling items that cost less than £5 in your e-commerce store, you can probably afford to send out a replacement free of charge. If the item costs £500, can you offer free shipping or a discount on the next order instead?

Can you Turn an Unhappy Customer Into an Advocate?

Disappointed customers who have been surprised and pleased by your customer service often go on to be your strongest advocates. It’s not always possible to make things right, but if you can it’s often well worth the effort. Customer service is a key feature of many online reviews, and people will tell their friends, family and Facebook about particularly good or particularly bad experiences.

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