Small Business Return Policies that Do Wonders for Customer Satisfaction
Date: April 13, 2017
A customer-focused return policy can be a great way to foster a long-term relationship, boost their satisfaction and referrals, and turn a first-time buyer into a long-term shopper. Here, three retailers share how their unique return policies have benefited their businesses and helped them overcome challenges in the retail market.
It’s important to have a clear return policy in place, but Brad Schweig, vice president of operations at Sunnyland Patio Furniture in Dallas, Texas, says leaving room for flexibility boosts customer satisfaction and retention. “In home furnishings, you see many stores with a three-day return or 14-day return, and there are almost always restocking fees,” he says. “Officially, our return policy is 30 days with the right to charge a restocking fee. In practice, we’ll take things back pretty much whenever as long as it is sellable and current.”
Schweig says this flexibility allows the company to evaluate returns on a case-by-case basis. “We are more restrictive on special orders as far as restocking fees if we have to send something back to a factory. But if it’s something we think we can easily sell, we’ll waive that fee,” he says.
Working with customers one-on-one and offering flexibility with returns has allowed the company to build a personal relationship with customers. “It is not worth the bad vibe with the customer to play games with the return policy, and it provides peace of mind with them if they don’t like their selection,” he says.
Give customers a no-risk guarantee.
Online retailers selling unique products have to overcome the challenge of hesitant consumers who like to handle products before making a commitment. Evelo Electric Bicycles in Kent, Washington, sells its electric bikes exclusively through its online store. To boost customer confidence, the company allows customers to return or exchange electric bikes within 10 days with no questions asked, and Evelo even covers return shipping costs.
“Consumers love the savings [of direct online sales] compared to the traditional model, but many still want to ‘kick the tires’ before committing to buying something somewhat pricey like an e-bike, which is why they’d traditionally go to a bike shop,” says Jonah Bliss, marketing adviser at Evelo.
The home trial policy is challenging, but Bliss says it encourages customers to try the product, which widens the customer base. “It’s definitely not cheap on our end. Shipping a huge box with a bike in it across the country really adds up. But it gives our customers the peace of mind to choose our brand, and it’s fitting for our brand values. We go above and beyond to make sure our customers are not just happy with their purchase, but thrilled with biking at any age,” he says.
Set an open-ended time limit on returns with appreciation for exchanges.
For high-end products with high resale value, like jewelry, retailers have more flexibility in crafting return policies. Bill Rau, the owner of M.S. Rau Antiques in New Orleans, will accept returns on jewelry at any time—even years after purchase. Customers receive a 100 percent refund, or they can cash in the piece’s 5 percent annual appreciation to exchange for a more expensive item up to 25 percent more than the original purchase price.
This policy also helps customers to view their purchases as an investment. “We believe in the value of what we sell, and we prove it,” Rau says. “We know that whatever we sell will retain, if not grow, in value. This return policy allows our customers the ability to upgrade if and when they are ready. They can trade it back for something more important, rarer, or more prominent.”