How to Effectively Handle Customer Returns: Making the Process Smooth


No business likes their products to be returned. However, it is a reality that every business, whether online or offline, must deal with. There may be nothing wrong with your product yet a few customers would want to return it for various reasons and get a refund. You should note that there’s nothing wrong with getting a few returns. No product is meant for all customers. In fact, you should anticipate a few returns and be well prepared in advance to handle them. A ready and smooth return process will not only make your job easier, it will also increase your brand image in customer’s mind. Let’s look at few things that will make it easier for you handle the returns.


Well defined return Policy:  Since you anticipate returns, you must be define your return policy for customers, have it clearly displayed on your website and make sure that you customers understand it. Make sure it is visible to customers while they are making the purchase (may be via a link). The package of your shipment should contain printed return policy along with any other documentation for the product. If they want to read it online, it should be easily accessible on your website. The language of the policy should be easy to read and understand. It is important that customers understand clearly, that when your return policy says 60 days from date of purchase it does not mean 60 days from date of receipt of product. Similarly, other requirements for returns must be in such a language that customer understands it in first reading. Especially for refund, ensure that your policy for refund amount, refund mode and time of refund is clearly mentioned. After ‘where do I return this’, the second question that the customer will ask is ‘My money?’ This will reduce the hassle for you later in the process.

You can use your return policy as a marketing tool as well. If you are offering free returns, make sure you highlight it. If you are offering any coupons or incentives or returns within specific period, ensure that these are highlighted. If you are asking for a reason to return, ensure that reason is well understood by your team and complimentary product if offered to the customer.


Return Process:  Make the return process easy for the customer. Include a postage paid return envelope or a return label with the product, if applicable. Hopefully not many people will use it, but most of them would give you the credit for giving them this option. Include a small note saying something such as if they are not 100% satisfied with the product, they can use the enclosed return label to return the product. Customers like these small gestures. If there are any forms that they need to filled in, Pre-fill the obvious sections (customer details and product details) for them, so that it is easy for them to fill just the relevant information such as reason for return quickly. Since they don’t need to spend any time filling mundane details, they may spend that time to fill in detailed feedback in the form.


If you are not providing the return label, make sure that return address is clearly indicated in the documentation (bill, invoice etc.) at the delivery, your website and any other touch point where customer might look for it (if you have a mobile app, include the section for returns with these details). Provide a phone number, if possible a free phone number, for customers to contact, if they have any query about their returns.


Receiving and processing Returns:  On your part, ensure your logistics team, warehouse or storage knows how to handle returns. They should know where do the returned goods need to be stored and how are they to be processed. If there are unopened boxes with products that are good to be sold again, then verify and put them back on the shelf, to be sold again and mark them so in the system (i.e. update the inventory). If they are damaged, then send them back to the manufacturer or your manufacturing unit. If it needs to be disposed, ensure how do they dispose it. Once you receive the product, how will your team process the refund (i.e. indicate the finance or accounts team to proceed with payment to customer)


Engage with the customer:  Remember, a customer is returning your product because he is not satisfied with it. This is a great opportunity to engage with the customer and get his feedback. Why did your product fail to meet his requirement? What could have been improved to provide him a better experience. Is he considering any other product? Make sure you thank him for the opportunity to serve him and hope to meet his expectations next time. The whole communication should show that you are interested in meeting his expectation with the product, and not just return the money and close the chapter. Engagingly positively over returns, with the customer will help to enhance your brand image.


Returns are a tricky business. Nobody likes them. They are not only lost revenue, but they add to the processing overheads. Yet, they are essential part of the business that cannot be done away it. Instead of looking at them as necessary evil, you can use them as an opportunity to build your brand and improve your product.

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