When was the last time a retailer rejected your request for a refund, exchange or store credit note?
I considered this issue after changing my mind recently on an item from an outdoor clothing store. The busy shop assistant quickly checked the receipt, scanned the box and accepted the return without hesitation. Within a minute, I searched for a replacement.
Returns cost small businesses a lot of money.
There was no inspection of the returned product, no questions asked about why I changed my mind and no forms. The refund was a breeze. That’s great for the consumer but says much about the poor sale culture that retailers are allowing to develop.
It’s not the first time I’ve noticed lax refund policies. Some electronics retailers allow gadgets to be returned with scant inspection of them or consideration of customer motives. If the consumer says the product is faulty, that’s usually enough.
How often do shop assistants reject a refund request on the basis that the packaging is damaged or because they believe the customer has used the product? Or use their discretion, provided through the store’s change-of-mind policy, to reject an exchange request?
I suspect some retailers, petrified of online customer abuse, are overlooking incidents of return fraud. It’s cheaper to give refunds on goods that have been used or where the return is the customer’s fault, than have your brand trashed online.
Some retailers are being hit by a high rate of returns.
In fairness, an intensely competitive retail landscape – where consumers have more power than ever – is forcing retailers to loosen return policies. The ability to return products instore is one of the few remaining advantages that traditional retailers have over online rivals.
Also, some retailers are so understaffed that assistants cannot grill customers on returns. They do not have enough time to sell, let alone to spend 10 minutes on lengthy return forms.
This is not a new problem. Some retail assistants I know say younger customers returning used clothing and demanding a refund has been a recurring problem in department stores for decades. There will always be customers who think nothing of ripping off stores though returns.
But retailers are also to blame for allowing a culture to develop where more customers buy products knowing they can be returned, used or unused, with no questions asked.
It doesn’t matter that the customer changed their mind three weeks after buying the product, or after noticing it was on a sale a few weeks later.
It doesn’t matter that the product is faulty because the customer damaged it during installation. Or the packaging is badly damaged, making it hard to re-sell. Or that the fault claim is so flimsy the retailer will struggle to get a return from the wholesaler.
Too many retailers are too generous on return policies. I’m not one to favour retailers over the customer, particularly those that torment us with awful service. But honest customers ultimately pay for fraudulent ones.
What happens to returned products that retailers suspect customers have used? Does the clothing that a teenager wore to a nightclub get dry-cleaned and put back on sale? Do shoes that were walked in for a week and returned get bought by an unsuspecting customer?
Retailers should toughen up. I can’t understand companies that provide store credit notes for returned products that have a six- or 12-month expiry – and carry a liability on their balance sheet for longer than is reasonable. If you change your mind on an item you should have to buy a replacement from the store within days or weeks.
Nor do I understand retailers providing store credit notes that allow customers to buy goods on sale. If the customer paid full price initially, they should do so for its replacement. That’s harsh but fair, and discourages customers returning goods to buy cheaper good that are on sale.
Retailers should also shorten allowable periods to change one’s mind on a purchase. It needs to be within days, not weeks. If you can’t make your mind up on a product purchase after a week, that’s your problem. Retailers should not provide customers with what is, in effect, free inventory for a month.
Companies should also encourage staff to use their discretion on change-of-mind product requests. Staff should honour the firm’s refund policy, respect customers and do the right thing. And supported in refusing refund requests where they suspect the goods have been used or the fault claim is baseless – particularly if a customer is abusive.
More process around returning goods is needed. Customers should be asked courteously why they didn’t like the product or what’s wrong with it, details taken and records kept. Databases should alert staff to customers who are serial product-returners and they should be put on notice that the company is awake to their tactics.
Most of all, companies should stand up to customers who abuse return policies and not kowtow to threats of negative online reviews. Who cares if a fraudulent customer does not “like” the brand on social media. I’d rather see retailers stand up for their principles.
If they don’t, we’ll have more customers buying multiple items from stores using credit or lay-by facilities knowing they can easily return some or all of them. And more products that must be repackaged, reprocessed and returned to wholesalers because of fraudulent claims, and other perfectly fine products that must be written off.
That’s the last thing retailers needs in this environment.
Follow MySmallBusiness on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
Source: Read Full Article