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Wed June 6 2012 12:18:14

Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?

By: Julia Wilkinson

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While there is much ongoing ado and debate about free shipping in the online selling community, a new study by ComScore and UPS indicates sellers' biggest opportunity to increase customer satisfaction is in their product return policy.

This made me think of the many seller discussions and anecdotes I'd heard about customer returns, with sellers venting to each other that their buyers wanted to return something for ridiculous reasons or reasons not covered by their stated policy.

It begs the question, how far is too far to go for a product return? Would sellers do better to follow the model of Zappos, famous for its generous return policy? Zappos has a "365 day return policy," which involves "FREE Returns: If you are not 100% satisfied with your purchase, you can return your order to the warehouse for a full refund." But Zappos does require that "Returns must be unworn, in the state you received them, and in the original packaging." They also believe "our customers should not have to pay for domestic return shipping" and enable them to print out a free return label.
 
Another online seller I know believes in an "insane return policy." He feels taking the hits on the relatively small number of returns he gets is more important than drawing the line with customers over specifics of a return, guarding his feedback rating,

But is there a line you will not cross? What if the buyer breaks an item that you know you bubble-wrapped nine ways to Sunday, and then asks for a return? Or is it a dollar amount where you need to mark that line in the sand...say, items over $100, $500?

In Ina Steiner's recent blog post about consignment sellers, she points out they often cannot afford unreasonable returns, because "their consignors don't see the need to offer free shipping or provide partial refunds, since it isn't their eBay feedback that's on the line."

I'd like to hear from sellers: What have been your experiences with customer returns...the good, the bad, and the ugly? Do you draw a line with returns and if so, where? Have you ever deviated from your stated return policy and taken a return in order to head off a perceived threat to your feedback rating? Post a comment here!




Comments (27) | Permalink

Readers Comments

Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?   Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?

by: Digmen1 This user has validated their user name.
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Wed Jun 6 14:00:48 2012

I have only had one return in 200 sales.
On ebay a buyer said one of my products had a scratch on it and demanded a refund or to return it and lodged a ticket with ebay. I asked for a photo, then he told me he had lodged a ticket with ebay so I gave him a full refund, as I did not want any bad feedback from an unreasonable customer.

Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?   Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?

This user has validated their user name. by: Spartacus

Wed Jun 6 14:02:56 2012

Over the last three years, I've only had two returns out of 3600+ transactions on eBay and one return over 5000+ transactions on Amazon.

So returns are a non-issue for me. However, I do stand 100% behind my product and services.

Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?   Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?

by: Steevo This user has validated their user name.

Wed Jun 6 14:09:52 2012

If you buy something from Zappos it's very expensive. That is not a low price seller. List price or more as far as I can tell.  

So you buy a pair of shoes for $130 that you could have found on eBay for $40 and at that $130 you get easy free returns and free shipping. But it's not really free, you are paying for it, that much is obvious.

Do you really need that if you only paid $40? Or are you saving enough?  

Some people clearly value those things to be willing to pay list price or more to buy from Zappos.

One thing to remember about about eBay, people want things cheap.  They don't want to pay $130 for those shoes.  

This is what eBay Inc. just doesn't get.  If you are saving 60% or 80% can you possibly pay a small amount of shipping?  Can you forgo easy returns?

I think you can.  If you can't you should buy from Zappos.com.  

I don't think it's reasonable to think you get CHEAP PRICES, EASY RETURNS and FREE SHIPPING all at the same time.

Now the reason eBay Inc. is pushing this so hard is they pay NONE of the cost of those things, their sellers are expected to pay.  

So eBay thinks they will just tap the sellers for those costs. Why not push policies that cost money but not YOUR MONEY, it's someone else's?  It's the kind of thing dishonest people do. Crooks.

This is the big problem with eBay.  

Prices are way too low, especially to pay for all those things that people naturally want but are clearly not willing to pay for.

Why is eBay Inc. pushing their sellers to offer things that eBay buyers are too cheap to pay for?

It seems to me eBay Inc. needs some lessons in economics.      

Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?   Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?

by: Susan Averello This user has validated their user name.
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Wed Jun 6 14:19:47 2012

Actually Zappo is usually well under list but they have shoes from bargain basement to really expensive.

As far as my own experience, in about 200 sales, I had had only 1 return and that was for breakage when I first started. He sent a pic, and I offered a refund or similar item (it was handmade), at his request I sent a new one, and that ended it.
The only things I don't return is custom items I can't resell, but so far I haven't had any requests for refunds.

Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?   Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?

by: Kelly This user has validated their user name.

Wed Jun 6 14:27:29 2012

If I had annual sales of over a billion dollars, I would gladly have a more generous return policy :)  

Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?   Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?

by: Steevo This user has validated their user name.

Wed Jun 6 15:31:18 2012

Susan, that has not been my experience. I buy shoes at the Reebok store or at Kohls that are less than half the price at Zappos.com.  

But like I said, eBay buyers want things cheap.

That they can get it cheap and with all those other things, easy returns, fast free shipping, end to end tracking, etc. is ridiculous.  Someone should let them make a choice.  

Do you want this for $30 with $12 shipping, or do you want it for $50 with free shipping?  

That's what's really going on here. Nothing is really free, the buyer pays for everything.  

If not the seller has to go out of business.  It's the way of the world.  

Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?   Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?

This user has validated their user name. by: Spartacus

Wed Jun 6 19:18:51 2012

One key factor I look at when entertaining a new product line is if it will run the risk of buyers wanting returns. My main product lines are fairly immune to return requests except for post office breakage.

I've noticed the most problematic categories tend to be electronics and clothing (especially women's clothing) and I avoid those categories like the plague.

Selling inexpensive items and/or accepting barganing/offers on items also draws the cockroaches out of the woodwork. The cheaper the item, the more likely the buyer is going to pitch a wobble.

Considering the slim profit margins on eBay, as Steevo is saying, it's ridiculous eBay passes these additional costs onto the seller.

There's simply no way a OSFA return policy can be applied to all sellers, all the time. For example, sealed CDs, DVDs or video games - buy one at Walmart and try to return it after opened. No way BUT on eBay, a buyer can buy a CD, open it, copy it and return it. The same applies to certain vintage collectibles. I collected comic books and baseball cards as a kid, no way, no how could you return a card or comic after it left the store. The worst mistake I ever made was trying to get rid of my collections on eBay (to please my wife). Amazing how many petty thieves there are with comics and trading cards, AND I WAS SELLING MY STUFF AT LESS THAN 50% guide value !!! Most of the buyers were thrilled and had many repeat buyers clear me out but the problem buyer rate was over 5% which is horrible for any business.

Well, on a more positive note, I've just ended the last of my eBay listings and closed my store !!! Over 4000 OOAK items just flew the coop along with the mailing list I paid eBay a pretty penny for. Sure, I'll do some free listings and dump my junk on eBay but for now, my own site is far less stressful than eBay, plus I can accept checks, money orders, credit cards (anything but Paypal or Google Checkout) AND I can set my own return policies.







Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?   Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?

This user has validated their user name. by: Al G

Wed Jun 6 20:19:52 2012

As the Firesign Theatre said: "It's a breath mint! It's a floor wax"

The eBay tent encompasses junk, junque, collectibles and commodities.

How can you have one return policy for all?

The management has tunnel vision - or getting back to the Firesign Theatre:

"It's a yard sale, It's Nordstroms. It's Amazon."

Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?   Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?

This user has validated their user name. by: bitbybit

Wed Jun 6 21:56:10 2012

JD, Mitt & all the other MBA Bains are out of touch with the real world. They are killing small businesses and jobs. They just don't get it or just don't care as long as they get what they want - get elected, make millions, etc and this is at the expense of everyone else. Applying a one size fits all to any business just doesn't make sense especially on a site with a mixture of new, used and OOAK.

Unfortunately selling on eBay, the threat of negative feedback and low DSRs always hovers over a seller's head. All a buyer has to do is ask for a return, nothing else needs to be said and the stress game begins for the seller. I know I sound bitter but I just had a buyer extort money from me on a rare item.

Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?   Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?

by: Digmen1 This user has validated their user name.
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Wed Jun 6 22:44:02 2012

Sellers are being squeezed with ebay fees and policies, and increased postage.
Buyers will only pay so much.

Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?   Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?

by: go-figure This user has validated their user name.

Thu Jun 7 08:12:42 2012

When it comes to Amazon and Zombay (my new multiple play on words term for eBay given the zombies that work there and their desire to be like Amazon), your return policy is irrelevant. It is whatever those two entities tell you that it is. And yes, we suspect that the writing is on the Zombay wall now that sellers will soon be required to cover ALL of the costs of returns including the return shipping.

As for return rates, we sell across 7 different platforms. Return rates are decidedly higher (more than double) on both Amazon and Zombay than they are on our own site, Etsy, and the other smaller platforms that we sell on.

We really don't have many return ''horror'' stories other than on Zombay. Many of those experiences have been shared by so many other sellers on here, that they're definitely the norm rather than the exception. Being forced to issue refunds on buyer damaged goods, forced into refunds for items never returned, forced refunds on false non-receipt claims, etc. They abound on Zombay. We just reached the point on Zombay where we have a no questions asked policy but do require all items to be in their original condition and all original paperwork must be enclosed. We still give in from time to time on the paperwork issue, but (knock on wood or wood-like veneer these days), we've had a mostly problem free spell of returns lately (other than the rates of returns).

Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?   Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?

This user has validated their user name. by: Stockmiser

Thu Jun 7 11:01:37 2012

I always offer returns - it's the nature of online selling, imho.

The biggest downside to buying online is that (1) you can't see the product in person, and (2) returns are more difficult.  So there's greater risk that you won't like the product PLUS it's a hassle if you have to return it.

I don't see how anyone can succeed selling online without a liberal return policy.  

It's not the wild west anymore when you could take ''3-5 weeks for delivery'' and ''returns not accepted''.  Sure, you can do that, and some do, but you are swimming against the tide, imho.



Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?   Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?

by: JustTheFacts This user has validated their user name.

Thu Jun 7 11:31:14 2012

Refunding or allowing a return does NOT guarantee good feedback.

Buyers today know that they can USE FB and DSR to hold over your head to get what they want, but I have found that MANY will still leave a neg, and if they feel they are being generous they will give a Neut.  But rest assured they will ALWAYS DING your stars because there their BAD DEEDS are done in SECRET!

What really needs to be discussed about returns, refunds, exchanges etc is the fact that you CANNOT compare regular online merchants with ebay and amazon merchants because ebay and amazon NEVER follow thier own rules and make them up as they go along.  Not to mention the fact they IGNORE the merchants policies and replace them with their OWN.

Let’s use Zappos as an example.
Zappos gives them 1 year but they do have CONDITIONS so if someone does USE the shoes and tries to return them they will be DENIED.  They are not worried about FB and DSRS when they enforce their policy nor are they worried that someone is going to FORCE them to accept USED shoes and take the money back anyways.

However, an ebay or Amazon seller could offer the SAME deal but ebay and Amazon will IGNORE the fact the shoes were WORN and FORCE the seller to refund them and if the seller says no, they will just TAKE the money out of their account, they will IGNORE the pictures of the shoes showing to be WORN etc.  They do not care because it is not THEIR money they are giving back.

The FACT is, ebay and Amazon want to CLAIM to be like the average ecommerce mall and follow what they CLAIM are "INDUSTRY STANDARDS" but they do NOT apply them ACCORDING to what the STANDARDS ARE.

They want their cake and eat it to and do not want to actually play by the actual RULES of the game.

ebay and Amazon actually TAKE OVER sellers stores when they OVERRIDE the sellers store policies.  They put ALL of the COSTS and RISKS onto the sellers but take NONE for themselves.

They allow FB and DSRS to be used as WEAPONS to basically BLACKMAIL the sellers into allowing buyers to do what EVER they want whether that was part of the agreement with the seller in the first place.  And this actually VIOLATES CONTRACT LAW.

If a seller has a NO return policy then that is what it is NO RETURNS!  If it is stated in the listing and the buyer buys anyway then they have NO right to hurt the sellers FB or DSRS when they choose not to accept the return.

Sellers should NOT have to LIVE and sell in FEAR of FB and DSRS every minute of the day but that is how ALL sellers (except for their ELETE box store sellers) live with ebay and Amazon.

So, comparing ebay and Amazon to other successful ecommerce stores and "INDUSTRY STANDARDS" is comparing Apples to oranges because ebay and Amazon play by their OWN rules and only CLAIM industry standards when they are trying to convince their sellers what they are doing is a good thing.

Inas article about FREE SHIPPING is a perfect example, when she PROVES that "FREE SHIPPING" is NOT an "industry standard" as ebay has CLAIMED.

If ebay and Amazon do not want to actually play by the RULES of the Industry then they have NO right to claim to be part of it nor be compared to those that are.
Another thing to consider when comparing the ecommerce industry verses ebay and Amazon is that the MERCHANT has a vested interest in their own business so when they make a decision to accept or deny a return etc, they are going to do that with the best interest for THEIR business.  The people making that decision also has the companys interest in mind, as where ebay an Amazon only have THEIR best interest in mind and the merchant/sellers interest is not even considered.  And this fact is PROVEN by their own FB and ratings system as well as the fact that they know they are OVER RIDING the merchants store policies.  ebay and Amazon actually IGNORE and ELIMINATE contract law as well.  So when you have “venues” who disregard the LAWS of the land, it is not a stretch to see how easily they will and do DISREGARD their own merchants.

Ebay and Amazon are like the WILD WEST and they play the UNCONTROLABLE, UNSCRUPULOUS and UNPREDICTABLE sherrifs.

Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?   Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?

by: crystal_buyzjewelry This user has validated their user name.
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Thu Jun 7 12:40:18 2012

Secret DSR privileges, Significantly not as described trumps and no negative feedback from sellers is called "monopoly".

Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?   Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?

by: pawpurrz This user has validated their user name.

Thu Jun 7 12:43:49 2012

I sell specialty items for pets and do not take any returns. I can't resell anything that someone else's pet might have  come in contact with. However, if someone is unhappy with any of my products for any reason, I will always work with them for a satisfactory result. It costs me my 20% discount on FVF but it's better than risking the health of anyone's companion.

Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?   Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?

by: marcellina This user has validated their user name.

Thu Jun 7 13:26:33 2012

Kind of ridiculous to put expectations for returns on the level of Zappos which is a public company with earnings upwards of a billion dollars.  

Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?   Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?

by: andanotherthing This user has validated their user name.

Thu Jun 7 13:31:09 2012

Here in the UK we are bound by the UK Distance Selling Regulations anyway which are far more onerous than anything that eBay can think of (at the moment) and it will get worse in 2013.  However, that's the law and we have to accept it.

I think though that generally eBay are making it so difficult for genunine honest sellers to sell "happily" and successfully that more and more sellers will leave.  I know I would love to, but my customer base/sales volume isn't large enough (yet)... I can dream though and I can try various avenues until I succeed!

Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?   Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?

by: Red Ink Diary This user has validated their user name.

Thu Jun 7 14:26:31 2012

Anything I sell is ''Satisfaction Guaranteed. Period. I want you to be happy with your purchase! If you don't like it, it's not sold. This means, if, for any reason, you do not like your purchase when you receive it, let me know & send it back right away. It must be in saleable condition, and packed as it was when you received it. I will refund your purchase price''

In 12-1/2 years I have had two claims one of which, a set of prints the Post Office mangled, was returned, she got full refund plus cost of her mailing them back. The other one was also broken in transit, her son emailed me pictures, I shipped a replacement. Both are repeat customers since.

I don't sell on eBay. I have found higher class customers elsewhere.

Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?   Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?

by: blaumann This user has validated their user name.

Thu Jun 7 14:32:56 2012

I do not offer returns. People can copy photographs, read and copy magazines etc. I have had almost zero complaint. I say in my description that if the buyer is unhappy, contact me before leaving a negative or low DSR and I will try to help them. If my 100% feedback for item as described or better and high DSR is not enough for someone to order, so be it. I sell vintage collectible stuff. I write very exacting descriptions. I do quality scans. I ask questions before I bid with sellers that have inferior auction presentations.  

Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?   Where Do You Draw the Line with Customer Returns?

by: biddude This user has validated their user name.

Thu Jun 7 16:04:05 2012

I know this is a little off subject This is a question to the group Can anyone tell me if after you refund a customer their money back via Paypal Will eBay automatically credit your account with the final value fee or is there some drawn out procedure that you have to go through I would appreciate any help thank you

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