Identifying Your Holiday Return Policy

It’s official – customers have the holidays on their mind. Halloween has passed us and Thanksgiving is just over two weeks away, which means consumers are in a holiday state of mind. In addition to the many things on your store’s to-do-list for the holiday season, make sure updating your holiday return policy is one of them.

As an independent store, it’s possible you have a strict policy of “all sales final” or offer a small window of exchange opportunities. Maybe you are among the few indie stores who welcome returns and exchanges in fierce competition with big box stores… though this is unlikely for most independent stores out there. Whatever your “normal” policy is, it’s important to consider what your holiday policy will be – because let’s face it, customers expect this.

Retail Minded’s 10 Tips to Creating a Return Policy for Everyday & the Holidays are identified below:

1. Require a receipt for all returns and exchanges, including cash, credit, check and gift card purchases. No receipt, no return. Period. Try to always be consistent on this to help stress the importance. Then again, you are the boss. You know when it’s right to make an exception – but don’t do so all the time.

2. Only offer refunds in the same currency used for the purchase, and offer store credit when appropriate instead of an actual refund. This helps avoid fraudulent behavior and keeps your store cash flow in check.

3. Offer gift receipts with all purchases during any time of year to help accommodate your customers  and your store. This will help avoid problems later on gifts being returned without a receipt.

4. Clearly identify what condition merchandise must be in to be received as a return or for exchange. If you sell apparel, jewelry, footwear or other accessories, this is especially important. Appliances  technology and other gadgets make this important, as well.

5. Always have your policy in view of your customers. Hang it or have it displayed in a frame by your cash wrap, in dressing rooms and one or two times throughout your store, as well.

6. Incorporate your return policy on your store’s receipt, so that every purchase made will also receive details of your policy. Go the extra step and have your customers initial that they have read and understood the policy, sure-proofing it’s been understood.

7. Be consistent in enforcing your policy. If you make exceptions for the holidays, make this very clear in all your communication about this.

8. Require identification for returns and track all returns. Not only is this a good practice to follow in general, it also helps steer thieves away. Excess returns, for example, by fraudulent customers can be better managed when tracked appropriately.

9. Train all employees to understand your return policy and any exceptions that may exist for the holidays. For example, if you normally accept returns with a full refund for 14 days after purchase, identify that during the holidays you accept exchanges only or store credit through January 15.

10. Be accommodating to holiday shoppers. It’s a competitive shopping world and as an indie, it’s important to embrace this rather than fight it. Do what you can to be flexible in your holiday return policies while still being effective in your total store management.

To further help you identify what your store holiday return policy should be, answer the following questions.

1. Are most of your customers local consumers or out of town shoppers?

2. Is the majority of your inventory products that can be consumed, used once or disposable?

3. Do you sell items that can be used and returned, such as clothing, without a clear way of knowing this?

4. What is your normal store policy and how is it typically received by customers?

5.  Will accepting returns or exchanges create a domino effect of problems for your business?

These questions are intended to help you kick-start the brainstorming necessary to identify what is right for your unique store. Ultimately, you need to identify the following:

1. Will you accept returns?

2. Will you accept exchanges?

3. Will you accept both or one only or none at all?

4. What time-frame is appropriate for you to extend your normal policy?

5. Do you suspect most customers will be local or out of town?

From here, shape a policy that makes sense for your store – keeping your store product, target customers and location in mind. If you cater to out of town guests, having a return policy that may involve shipping is important to consider. If you cater to a local crowd, consider what time-frame is fair and yet considerate to the season.

While big box stores may offer 30, 60 or even 90 days to return a product, this simply isn’t smart planning for an indie store. Instead, create a policy that is right for you.


Photo Credit: Planet Receipt


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