For e-commerce companies product returns can easily become a nightmare, particularly for small or start-up businesses. A series of bad reviews can destroy a company, and the cost of moving product back out into the world can really strain a company’s finances. How then can you take steps to successfully prevent or drastically reduce returns?

Let the Customer Know What Can Be Returned Before Purchase

Certain items will not be eligible for return, such as food items and undergarments (thank goodness), and it is important that the customer is aware of this upfront. Clearly marking items as unreturnable on your site and during checkout can help prevent return claims that have to be denied, disappointing the customer.

Create a Clearly Documented Return Policy

A poorly written policy with loopholes and vague wording can lead to customer confusion and force you to accept returns that could have been avoided. Wording the return policy in a clear and concise manner will help minimize product coming back to you.

Make Your Policy Readily Available

Having the policy on your website for customers to read at any time can stop returns in their tracks. Giving your customers the ability to view the return policy allows them to be aware of what is to be expected if they wish to make a return. Clear return policies that are made easily available may even deter customers from trying to take advantage of a company, as they may not deem it to be worth the hassle.

Be Clear

Vague descriptions and inexact sizes can lead to an instant return. Ensure that your descriptions for the items being sold are clear, detailed and precise. The more the customer knows about the product the better. Use real images! A customer is going to be wary of what they purchase if they can’t even see what it looks like. Provide images of the items on your website so the customer knows what they’re getting. Make sure the photos are high quality too, you’ll sell more (almost 50% more). Be honest and show your products as best you can.

Set a Limit

Some items, such as clothing, are hard for the customer to guess correctly when it comes to size or fit, thus returns may be inevitable. However, setting a time frame for when returns and refunds are acceptable can help the customer be more cautious with their purchases. Whether it be 30 days for a full refund or 45 days for a store credit, set a limit so that you won’t be accepting returns months down the road.

Double Check the Items and Address

It happens more often than we’d like, and it’s embarrassing every time. Before shipping an item, double or even triple check the package’s contents and the recipient’s address on the label to make sure that it’s correct. If you’re shipping internationally this is especially important, as some countries use a different format for their address than others and shipping costs are much higher for an incorrect item.

Consider Restocking Fees

Returns can cost smaller businesses hundreds to thousands of dollars every year, and part of that cost is in restocking the items after the product has been sold. Adding a restocking fee into your return policy can help diminish costs and save you the headache of returns, as well as deter those who might try to cheat the system with returns.

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Take Precautions

Once the package has left the hands of the retailer they have very little power of what may happen to it. Taking precautions to avoid potential hazards may save you more than you think. If the product is quite valuable, avoid theft by not using branded boxes and making sure it is insured, to prepare for any possible worst case scenario.

Use the Right Packaging

Along the lines of taking precautions, appropriately packing the product can help prevent damages (and consequently returns) as well. Use the proper materials to pack valuable/breakable items and use the appropriate packaging size so that the item does not get jostled around during shipping.

Inspect Your Products Before Shipping

This may sound obvious but if the product looks damaged or tampered with in the least, the customer is almost certainly going to return it. Don’t take chances with this, as tempting as it may be. The amount of time that is wasted during the return and reorder process will damage the relationship you are trying to make with your new customer even if the next product you issue is top notch.

Returns may be a frustratingly inevitable part of running your own online business, but they can easily be reduced to the bare minimum if one has taken the right precautions. Keep these tips in mind and hopefully you should be able to keep return numbers as low as possible.