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Returns are an unavoidable cost of doing business for every online retailer, but that’s no excuse for failing to do whatever you can to prevent them.

There are several reasons why ecommerce retailers need to avoid returns, but the most important is that returns are more than just a lost sale. Often, a return results from a mistake or problem and is potentially the start of a bad experience for your customer. The good news is a well-handled return will usually fix the problem and even strengthen the customer’s perception of your brand. Conversely, however, a bad return experience can cost you a customer for life.

Returns are also expensive to fix from an operational perspective, especially compared to a typical brick-and-mortar store. The time and cost to process a return is typically double or more that of shipping the order in the first place.

There is a lot at stake when it comes to returns, and it’s always in the best interest of an online retailer to minimize and prevent them. So, what can companies do? Here are five tips.

Manage Expectations Better

Enticing customers into making a purchase is a big part of selling, but so is ensuring the customer is actually getting what they want and need. The point is to make sure what you sell is in line with the buyer’s expectations. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, this includes not over-promising or upselling unnecessarily. And, when it comes to preventing returns, sometimes down-selling is the better strategy, even if it means a smaller margin.

Represent the Product Accurately

Speaking of making sure the customer gets what they want, be sure that your products are accurately represented on the website. This includes using high-quality images and good product descriptions. In the case of apparel, where return rates can run very high, providing detailed and easy-to-understand sizing charts is effective for minimizing returns.

Provide Reviews

Showing real customer reviews is another counter-intuitive yet helpful idea. In the past, many sites were afraid to offer reviews for fear of the negative things that might get written. Most online buyers today are savvy enough to see through the noise and use reviews effectively. People get that there will always be overly positive and negative reviews on just about everything. Most importantly, reviews help customers learn about products and make the best buying decisions.

Get Them Started

With technology and other more complicated products, it’s vital to give customers clear instructions on how to put an item into use. Many gadgets that require setup are returned simply because the customer can’t get started using them. Providing clear instructions with the product and preparing the customer at the point of sale for what will be involved with setup help prevent returns made out of frustration.

Provide Help

At the “point of crisis,” when a buyer is frustrated trying to put a new product into use, they need to know their options for getting help. Online and phone support should be standard for most products, especially complicated tech and other gadgets. Considering the high cost of a return, it’s a small expense to provide support when many returns are preventable with a short customer conversation.

 

Returns are a fact of life for most retailers, but the steps you take to avoid them whenever possible, and how you deal with the ones you can’t, have significant impact on your customer relationships and profitability. With peak shipping season almost here (and the spike in returns that always follows), use these tips to minimize the number of purchases you get back and win some new customers for life.

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