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“Product returns usually spike in January, when less-than-satisfied gift receivers look to return or exchange products. Dealing with returns isn’t fun for retailers. However, when handled the right way, merchants can actually minimize returns or even capitalize on them,” – Vendhq.com Blog

Modern human civilization thrives on material excess. The humongous volumes of products, services, brands, versions, and fakes that drive modern consumer markets represent a phenomenon unto themselves. Marketing and publicity campaigns seek to ignite consumers’ latent wants and desires as they create markets for ever newer products and services. The philosophy of ‘free markets’ and the popular practices that attend crass consumerism make a virtue of sheer excess in every conceivable field of human enterprise. Consumer choice, worshipped at the altar of material pursuits, is exploding at unprecedented levels as more businesses compete for a slice of the ‘action’. In this scenario, the purveyors of modern commerce have contrived to create policies that govern returns and exchanges. This action is motivated by a desire to preserve commerce and boost the consumer’s illusory choices. We will examine some of the techniques that enable businesses to manage consumer choice in the aftermath of the holiday season.

Clarity in the creation of marketing messages can help businesses to address the root of the problem. Modern marketers tend to create all manner of advertising campaigns and marketing gimmicks to attract consumer attention. Garbled and confused messages help to sell merchandise and to move the sales needle. However, reality may dawn on consumers and this creates situations ripe for returns and exchanges. Therefore, a business must infuse levels of honesty and accuracy in selling campaigns. For instance, a retail business that deals in branded clothing and accessories must institute practices that spotlight product qualities and attributes. Size charts and diagrams of products represent one way to educate customers on product attributes. This can help customers to arrive at a considered purchase decision. This approach is an antidote to the fact that customers are easily influenced by commercial offers (such as discounts and reduced prices). Such information distracts consumer attention from product attributes but helps the retailer to sell higher volumes. Poorly informed choices may lead to high levels of returns and exchanges thereby creating problems in the business and sparking customer dissatisfaction.

Clear exchange policies help brands and businesses to manage returns and exchanges in an efficient manner. Online businesses and traditional retail outlets can benefit when they put forth such policies in an unambiguous light. This approach essentially hinges on providing the customer with clear information should a situation of product return arise. For instance, an online business enterprise can elect to create a separate web page on its flagship website that details returns and exchanges policies and practices. These instructions, listed in bullet points, offer key information benefits to clients and customers. This tactic ensures that customers that shop at the business are aware of the conditions and procedures that govern product return. The level of transparency in such matters is crucial because it helps remove any scope for confusion for transacting parties. In light of the above, we may state that such a stance helps to reinforce consumer choice. The steadfast application of such policies also helps businesses to preserve brand reputation.

Online businesses can choose to include return documentation in every order they dispatch to their customers. This safe technique boosts consumer trust and underlines the confidence of the business in its merchandise. This approach is especially useful in the post-holiday season when businesses register many requests for returns and exchanges. The said documentation can create an ordered return of unused products, which can be forwarded to manufacturers. Return labels or exchange labels thus offer online businesses a clear process to re-stock goods in their product inventories. Individual businesses may subsequently decide to sell returned products at a discount in the interests of boosting cash flows.

Costs and expenses are important to every business. Successful enterprises devise useful techniques to contain expenses and lower the costs of various business processes. We note that returns and exchanges qualify as a business process; therefore, every business that operates such policies should focus on reducing the costs that attend returns and exchanges. Some of the titans of online commerce operate return policies wherein, a buyer can retain the product intended for exchange. He or she receives the new product and the matter is closed. Prima facie, this policy may indicate a loss for the business operator. However, in the real world, this ‘exchange’ saves the business certain costs that attend shipping the product back from the customer. Online commerce operators can simply order the new product from the manufacturer and ship it to the customer in question, for a token payment. We note that the larger interests of the business enterprise govern this particular approach to returns and exchanges.

An equitable approach to returns and exchanges enables brands and businesses to cultivate a consumer-friendly public image. This translates into goodwill, a priceless intangible. A positive return experience can be a sales multiplier for any business. This is especially true for small businesses. This technique can help retailers in the post-holiday season by gaining a sense of the best sellers and the products that ‘came back’ to the store. This knowledge can guide and inform their stocking and inventory policies in subsequent years. In addition, a balanced return experience can help to convert more customers to the services of a brand or business. We note that certain firms have instituted long return periods, stretching into months. Under such policies, products qualify for a full return as long as they are unopened and retain their original tags.

Businesses that balk at money-back returns and exchanges can offer customers a gift card to power a future purchase. This tactic enables a smooth return experience for the customer, while ensuring future business opportunities for the enterprise. We may note that such a policy ensures the customer does not feel cheated; it also enables the business to demonstrate a decent value proposition in subsequent transactions. This technique helps to boost customer engagement, which is important for commercial operators. That said, we note that gift cards represent an extension of an ongoing business transaction. Customers can accumulate these in the manner frequent travelers accumulate ‘frequent flier miles.’ A number of gift cards can entitle the customer to excise cash out of a possible future transaction.

Commercial establishments must implement consistency in returns and exchanges. This is important because a customer may wish to return merchandise at a different location. People travel frequently and therefore, brands and businesses must accommodate such possibilities. Commercial operators can also choose to take a creative approach by offering consumers the choice to waive ‘returns’ at the checkout point. This action can entitle consumers to a small discount on the basket of products purchased. We note that this tactic can save businesses from potential paperwork arising from returns following the holiday shopping season.

In the preceding paragraphs, we have examined the issue of managing product returns and exchanges in the aftermath of the holiday season. We note that these practices are still undergoing evolution. Future iterations and refinements can help retailers to arrive at the perfect formula to govern product returns.

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