Holiday return season is a nightmare for anyone stuck working the customer service line at any major retailer.
It’s also the bane of any SMB owner, since Christmas season can make up a major chunk of their yearly profits and many product returns often force them to absorb major losses.
Lastly, the poor customers who’re forced to stand in potentially endless lineups. The honest ones who have a good reason for returning merchandise have it the worst, since they don’t know what to expect as the line moves them ever-closer to a potential conflict with your service people.
Let’s take a note from Rodney King’s book and learn to all get along this return’s season.
1. Make it as easy as possible for customers.
Do whatever you can to make it as easy as possible. Just because you offer a return policy doesn’t mean they’re all going to go out of their way to return everything under the sun and bankrupt you. If there are no returns on an item, make sure your CSRs are making that clear at the time of purchase.
If you’re shipping items, include free return shipping labels and make it easy to access the returns section of your website. This is one area you simply have to love Amazon for. Their return practices are legendary and I’ve dealt with other smaller retailers who’re awesome at this too. I’m a huge fan of Merrell Bare Access shoes and the one time I had a problem, they made it so easy for me to return my item I was sold on their brand for life.
2. Make sure there’s plenty of staff to accommodate the rush.
Even mega-retailer Walmart is guilty of under-staffing their Customer Service desk during the days following Black Friday, Boxing Day, etc. Why would anyone treat their employees or customers this badly?
Better to be safe than sorry in this regard. Budget more for staffing during this time. It’ll protect your employees more than anything and make customers happy they don’t have to wait forever to return a few dollars worth of stuff. Lineups lead to angry mobs!
3. Don’t be an ass-umer.
Yes, there are some who’ll return an item because they found a place where they can save a boatload of money (hint: a price-matching policy can turn a costly return into a partial refund)…
There are still others who’ll try to outright scam you by putting things like rocks, bowling balls, and old pillows and blankets into their box of merchandise and cleverly resealing it to look like it was “never opened”…
There are also plenty who’ll step up to the return’s desk with a scowl and attitude ready for war the like of which Schwarzkopf could have never imagined during his reign as Commander-in-Chief of the world’s most powerful military force…
There’s plenty of bad out there in the world of retail returns. But most people have legitimate reasons such as sub-par quality or products that simply don’t work as advertised, clothing or footwear that doesn’t fit, decor that doesn’t fit their environment, and a myriad of other darned good reasons for wanting to get their money back.
When you assume, Oscar Wilde rolls over in his grave (you know the quote I’m talking about). Making the customer the bad guy is a sure path toward creating a negative experience for everyone. Worse, they’ll likely never come back. Walmart, Costco and other giant discount retailers can get away with snubbing and assuming; small business owners can simply kiss that business goodbye.
4. Avoid “no questions asked” policies (keep reading, it’s not what you think).
Do make yours a no-hassle return policy. And don’t give the customer the third degree when they step up to the desk. But don’t encourage your return’s staff to passively process the merchandise and give the customer their money back without any feedback.
After all, maybe the product is a stinking pile of poop that you should stop stocking in your store(s). How will you know exactly what’s wrong with it if you don’t ask?
Some will lie, thinking you’re trying to weasel your way out of giving them their cash back. This can be avoided by prefacing the request with something like:
“Our policy is to make this experience as seamless as possible for you, but would you mind telling me what you liked and didn’t like about the item?”
Asking “was there anything wrong with it?” on unopened items is just as pointless. Let the customer know you’ll process the refund, but still ask them why they want to return it. This is how you can find out if your prices aren’t competitive, or if someone’s wife or hubby opened the gift and it failed to inspire as the purchaser thought it would.
All this information is crucial toward improving the atmosphere in your store during this time, and reducing the number of returns next year.
Good luck everyone!
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