How to Set Up a Great eCommerce Returns Process

Published: Oct 18, 2019

There’s a lot of factors that go into a starting an online business that make it run well and become profitable; you need good products, a well-designed website, effective backend processes and more. But, it’s the returns process of your online store that can either make or break the lasting relationship you’ll have with a customer. If they had a good experience with making a return to your business, then they’ll likely return and become a loyal customer for years to come. But, if they had a bad experience, they won’t just avoid doing business with you in the future; they’ll also tell everyone they know about their experience, and turn off people who haven’t even visited your site yet.

To avoid this worst-case scenario, let’s go through the three most important factors of a good eCommerce returns process: return policies, RMA systems and refunds.

1) Write an Effective Return Policy

The first step in setting up a great returns process for your eCommerce business is writing a return policy that does its job and does it well. The goal of your return policy is to decrease confusion while increasing customer satisfaction (which ultimately leads to boosted sales). Here’s the best ways to put together an eCommerce return policy that works best for you and your customers:

Make Your Policy Easy to Find

Before we even get into the content of your return policy, one thing needs to be established: your return policy has to be easy to find on your website. Customers, who are most likely already frustrated since they’re thinking about returning their purchase, will inevitably become even more annoyed if they can’t begin to find out how to make a return to your store in the first place. Your return policy needs to be obviously placed and linked to in multiple places on your online store, usually including:

  • Your homepage (usually in the footer)
  • The checkout page
  • Product pages
  • Purchase confirmation emails

If you make sure to keep your return policy blatant and not hidden, you’ll end up building trust with your customers because they’ll know you’re not trying to trick them or pull the wool over their eyes by hiding your policy. You want customers to know that you care and make things as easy as possible for them throughout the entire buyer journey, even if they want to return their purchase.

Keep the Vocabulary Simple

When you actually sit down to write your return policy, it’s important to be aware of the type of language you’re using. A frustrated customer won’t be satisfied if they find your return policy and can’t parse the complicated legal jargon that you’ve filled it with; they’ll ultimately jump to the conclusion that you’re purposefully making it hard to understand so it’s more difficult to make a return. By writing your return policy in a way that customers can easily understand, but still not open to interpretation, you’ll continue to build trust with your customers and cut down on the level of confusion that they may have upon encountering your policy.

Make Conditions Clear

Your return policy should make every condition, fee and requirement clear to any customer that reads it. In order to avoid errors in returns and frustration in customers, they need to know exactly what they need to do in order to make a successful return. This means that you need to:

  • Include clear deadlines so customers are aware of the return timeframe
  • Define expected conditions of the returned item (especially if you won’t accept broken or used products)
  • Inform customers whether or not they’re expected to cover the cost of shipping
  • Clearly list all of the requirements for their return to be processed

Be sure to include the most important requirements and information, like deadlines and conditions, prominently and repeatedly throughout your store’s return policy.
  If you sell products that are not returnable, for example custom embroidered hats, make this clear in the product details before customers order the product.

One of the best ways to streamline this process is by utilizing an RMA system, which will be your next step in putting together a great returns process.

2) Use an RMA System

An RMA system, which stands for Return Merchandise Authorization, is definitely necessary if you want the best and most effective return process on your online store. Here’s the top benefits of simplifying your returns with an RMA system:

Collect Reasons for Returns

If a customer wants to return their order, there’s usually a reason for doing so. So, your return policy will most likely include the acceptable reasons for making a return; this is where an RMA comes in. You can set up your RMA system to give customers a list of acceptable reasons for returning their purchase that they can choose from, which will cut down on the amount of invalid return requests being made. You can also include areas for customers to type out more specific details of their return so that you can get a better idea of what the issue is with their order and why the return is being initiated. By automatically collecting this information, an RMA system allows you to easily analyze and approve return requests based on a few simple metrics.

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Assess Returned Items

Using an RMA system, you can allow customers to easily submit photos of the products that they intend to return. This is a great way to assess whether or not the item meets your standards, conditions and/or reasons for a return. For example, if your return policy stipulates that a product cannot be returned if it is broken, a photo of the product will show whether or not it’s damaged before the customer even begins to return it to you. This way, you’ll have an easier time determining acceptable return conditions and approving return requests.

Identify Areas of Improvement

Using an RMA system, you can see all of the reasons why your products are being returned, helping you to determine whether or not there’s a pattern of issues that you have the power to solve. If one specific product is constantly being returned because a part of it breaks or malfunctions, then you know that this issue isn’t a unique one and that you may need to modify your product at large. Remember that returns can be vital customer feedback that assist you in improving your store as a whole, so use the data collected by your RMA system to determine if something needs to change.

3) Give Store Credits as Refunds

The inevitable question that comes with every return process is “how will you process refunds?” Contrary to popular belief, some customers actually prefer to receive store credits as refunds rather than a full monetary refund to their original payment method. There’s a few main reasons why store credit refunds are a great option for you and your customers:

Gives You More Flexibility

It’s no secret that returns can be complicated, and that the process can become even more convoluted when you add refunds into the picture. There’s endless possibilities when it comes to a return; the item may be broken entirely, only parts of the item are broken, the item isn’t broken but has been used, etc. In this case, refunding the customer for the full value of the product when you’re receiving a devalued return may not be optimal for you. Thankfully, a store credit can solve that by allowing you to offer credit to customers equivalent to the value of what’s being returned. This way, customers will receive a fair refund amount based on what was returned, and you won’t be operating at a loss on every return of a devalued item that’s impossible to resell entirely.

Offers Your Customers Options

If you’re dealing with a refund, the return process doesn’t end when you’ve received the item back from the customer; the long wait begins for payment processors to actually input the monetary refund into your customer’s account. This process can be endlessly frustrating, especially if a customer wants to replace the returned item as soon as possible and has to wait for the funds to post on their account before they can do that.

By refunding customers with store credit, they have the option to start shopping for their replacement immediately without dealing with the hassle of a financial institution. They can also save the store credit without having to choose a replacement product right away, which is the main issue with forcing customers to only initiate a return in the form of an exchange.

Tip: Store credit as a refund is perfect for gift recipients who are returning an item that came from your store. They most likely won’t have access to the original payment method used to purchase the item, so store credit is the best option here.

Helps to Prevent Returns

Unfortunately, some customers will try to take advantage of your return policy to get their one-time use out of an item only to return it shortly after they’re finished with it. This is often referred to as “wardrobing” and is something that a lot of online stores deal with, especially in the apparel industry. Even if you try to put together a bulletproof return policy to avoid this, some scam customers do end up getting around it (by wearing clothes with the tags left on, for example).

One way to help discourage this act is by only allowing refunds in the form of store credits. That way, scam customers won’t be able to run off with their money back after using your product; instead, they either have to take the loss or legitimately buy something from your store with the credits.

Wrapping Up

Building a returns process for your online store can seem complicated and frustrating, but it’s necessary so that your business doesn’t suffer undue loss or leave customers feeling unhappy. Nobody likes dealing with a return, but, if done right, it can be a great opportunity to leave customers satisfied and open to doing business with your store again in the future.