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Creating an ideal small business return policy

When someone buys an item from your small business, it probably gives you a little joy inside. But when they turn around and come back the next day to return it, you probably get that slight twinge of disappointment in your stomach. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to make the return process a little more comfortable for both yourself and your customers. Bert Seither, The Startup Expert™, offers some tips on crafting an ideal return policy for a small business:

— Have a consistent policy on the books – and stick to it.

Being consistent is key in all facets of running a business. Consistency is also a must when creating a return policy, says Bert Seither, The Startup Expert™. What this means is if you sell products in a store and online, or if you have multiple retail outlets, your return policy should be consistent across the board. This includes the return timeframe, which items are allowed to be returned, and any other factors that you think are important to include in such a policy. All employees should be trained on this policy and implement it as well so that there’s no confusion. If a customer finds out your company is not being consistent policy-wise, you could lose future business.

— Clearly define your timeframe for allowing returns.

The number of days during which returns are allowed is one of the most important aspects of a return policy. Small businesses that don’t have a ton of inventory and deep pockets like their big-box siblings simply can’t afford to accept returned items whenever customers want to bring them back. This is why a business owner should put the return policy information on a receipt that a customer receives when buying something. Whether it’s a week, 10 days, or 30 days, business owners should adamantly stick to these return deadlines, even if customers aren’t too thrilled when they’re told they cannot return something. If a small business is seasonal and sells clothing for summer, for example, a tank-top may no longer be desirable by other customers after the original buyer returns it and summer is almost over. Research has shown that limiting this return window can reduce the overall number of returns.

— Clearly define rules regarding the reshipping process.

Let’s say you have a website through which customers can purchase items that will be mailed to them. If they are dissatisfied, do they know the address of where to send the product back? Are they responsible for covering these additional and unexpected shipping costs? Is there any way you can get feedback from them on why they are returning an item? Make sure you answer all of these questions clearly in order to determine how the reshipping or return-by-mail processes work for your company. You certainly don’t want the customer to have to go out of his or her way, but you also don’t want to be incurring unnecessary charges when it comes to reshipping if you don’t have to.

— Determine why a customer is returning something.

While returns are viewed as unfortunate occurrences, you can make lemonade out of lemons by determining why someone is returning a purchase in order to improve your small business. Bert Seither, The Startup Expert™, says to flat-out ask customers why they are taking something back – but obviously in a friendly way. Of course, some customers will divulge this information themselves. Perhaps several customers are returning the same item for the same reason. You need to know why this is and what you can do to change or improve such an item to reduce future returns and increase customer satisfaction. Communication is an integral part of small business ownership, and it plays an even larger role with regard to returns.

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