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March 23, 2016 // 10:30 AM

Tired of Ecommerce Product Returns? Try a More Lenient Policy

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It makes sense to implement a rigid return policy, doesn’t it? By requiring that products be returned for refund or exchange before a certain number of days pass, customers are likely to let the deadline pass without realizing. At least, that’s the basic idea (and hope) for strict policies. What if the opposite were true?

The Endowment Effect

If you give seven days, or even thirty days, for customers to try out a purchase before returning it, there is a chance that a few will miss that deadline. It’s just human nature. What about the rest of your customers, though? What about those who watch clocks and calendars, who take notes and make lists? Those are the customers who will send their purchase back immediately to avoid missing deadlines.

What if you gave every buyer a more lenient return policy? What if you, say, didn’t have a time limit at all? Those who would normally mark calendars would instead put their new purchase in a closet or drawer, promising themselves they would return it when they get a chance. Without a deadline, what’s the rush?

In most cases, buyers would soon become attached to the purchase. It’s called the “endowment effect,” and it’s a very real thing. That Hawaiian-print shirt hiding the back of your closet may go to Goodwill before you ever consider returning it, simply because you’ve grown rather fond of it—in a ridiculous sort of way. In fact, unless a product doesn’t fit or has the potential to cause harm, most will develop an affinity for it.

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The “Meh” Effect

Even if consumers don’t become emotionally attached to the purchase, there’s still a big chance they won’t return it. After a certain period of time, they’ll start to wonder if their refund or exchange is even worth the trip to the post office. After all, they’ve kept it this long. Maybe they’ll feel like leaving the house extra early next week to stand in line. Or maybe they can give up their lunch break the week after that.

Without a set deadline, there’s a good chance they’ll never decide that going to the post office to make their return is more important than a few more minutes of sleep or a good lunch break in the middle of their work day. Human nature and all that.

Boosted Sales As a Bonus

If cutting down on the returns and exchanges isn’t enough of a reason to relax your policies, then perhaps the promise of higher sales might be. When buyers examine the return policy and find out there aren’t a lot of rules involved, they’re more likely to make a purchase. After all, you’ve removed all the risks associated with buying.

You always want to protect your ecommerce company, above all. Customer service is supposed to help you just as much as it helps the buyer. That means a “lenient” return policy should still cover your best interests. For instance, if you offer a two-month time limit, make sure tags are still attached to garments and soles aren’t worn on shoes. If you sell a service, make sure anything that was gained as a result of that service (such as endorsements or certifications) are also revoked with the refund of purchase.

There is always a happy medium that provides more freedom for your buyers while also protecting your bottom line. Don’t be afraid to change up the status quo to see if a new return policy could change the way you do business.

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Topics: Ecommerce

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