Decoding Return Policies

March 05, 2022 5 min read

We don’t receive a lot of returned items, but it does happen. Of course! There is some degree of risk in shopping online, always.

As shoppers, we make mistakes; and, as a retailer, we try our best to represent & describe everything accurately, but we may make mistakes, too. We (dignify) consider this a “cost of doing business” and roll with it. And, because returns make up such a small proportion of the overall orders, we feel confident that these are just natural occurrences (a change of mind, a change of financial situation, or color mismatch are the predominant reasons).

In contrast, when we noticed a lot of returns on our original indigo blankets, we knew there was a problem. It drove us to do better in photos & categorization, so that it was clearer what someone purchasing an indigo might expect. When we did that: fewer returns!

Stores take different approaches to return policies, sometimes with great sophistication in how it will impact your willingness to purchase. Here's a little peek at what I've learned over the years (as a customer and also as a retailer) about return policies.


Why a business may have a no-returns policy 

  • Customized items
    • Anything that is customized is often (reasonably) off-limits for a return. Too much work goes into the individualized production of a custom piece, and the final product may be too niche or specific to appeal to others. Even if the product itself isn’t custom-designed or -made, this policy may include bulk products that are cut-to-length or printed on demand. These items are, in essence, been customized, and might be difficult to resell.

  • Difficulty in returning 
    • For example, a business may be skilled at packaging highly breakable items, like lightbulbs or pottery. But, trusting customers to return those items with the same care may have proven too risky, so they determined that "final sale" is the best way to go. 
    • Perishability of a food item, or something like a live plant, would probably fall in this category, too.
    • (Keep in mind that for bulky, awkward items like furniture or rugs, there may be a generous return policy, but you are likely on the hook for the return shipping, which is costly.)

  • They already anticipate that you might not be happy with what you get
    • A store having a "no returns" policy doesn't have to indicate alarm bells (as in the examples above), but sometimes it should be a red flag. 

      A few kantha “competitors” (I don’t really think of them this way, but let’s say: alternate sources to buy kantha products) have zero-returns policies for their orders. It seems a little odd, and rare, in the e-shopping landscape. What I’ve heard from customers is that they have been disappointed with the quality and/or the representation of these kantha. But, there is no recourse for returning or complaining! If a store (or an Etsy listing) has a zero-cancellation or zero-returns policy, and sells items advertised as "like this" or "assortment" or "similar to pictured"... just know what you are getting into!

      It is definitely possible that stores like this put their very best appearance on for the images, and send a worse product. To address complaints in the past, they have resolved this with a no-returns policy. Read the fine print! 



Why a business may have an easy or long-timeline (e.g. 90 days) return policy 

  • In short: it makes you more inclined to buy!
    • Having a long window in which to return your item is comforting. It lowers the barrier to shopping hesitancy and encourages you to buy more and more easily. E.g. I am buying jeans, and see a sweater that I begin to consider. I think, “I will pick up this sweater, too, and if I don’t like it, I have lots of time to return it.”

      The reality is that the longer the return policy is, the less likely someone is to actually return it! Without an urgent time pressure, it is a chore that is left undone, until a point when 1) the money is not missed, and/or 2) it feels embarrassing or inconvenient to return after such a long time.

  • The store is able to roll with it
    • Big companies have return management systems that allow them to effectively deal with returns (see below)
    • dignify is able to accept returns after a time because our inventory is a rolling collection of one-of-a-kind, but nonetheless the same, products. If a classic throw is sold in December & returned (unused) in February, we can easily add it back into our March lineup. Some stores can accommodate this kind of product return, while some have other factors (like, seasonality) that limit their flexibility.

  • What happens to returned products?
    • There's no question that managing returned items adds extra work for the retailer. Big companies, like Costco and Amazon, may not restock the products at all, but instead resell these items to liquidators. 
    • Here is an investigative report from Canada into Amazon's return process (of 12 items purchased & returned, 4 were resold on Amazon to new customers, 1 ended up in the landfill, and 2 traveled over 500 miles) and here is a deeper dive into the fascinating hustle of the liquidation-resell market.

Why a business may have a return/exchange policy that is short or ungenerous (e.g. 1 day, 7 days, or exchange-only)

  • You would see a policy like this most often with small, independent businesses. 
    • One reason is, simply, that it is more work. A longer window for returns is more complicated for accounting purposes, and takes time for transactions and restocking. A policy that discourages returns is less burdensome on the (usually) limited staff-power of a small business.
    • Another challenge in this online shopping landscape, for small business, is the potential to be taken advantage of. Perhaps a customer buys an item at a boutique, then finds the same item available at a lower price from a chain store, or online. Having an exchange-only policy protects the small business from providing the in-store experience, but losing the sale.
  • Seasonal items
    • It's tough to sell a patio umbrella in the fall, or a sled in the springtime. I have definitely benefited from shopping for clothing off-season! But, the seasonality of items would definitely impact a store's willingness to accept them back (and when).

 

I hope that is helpful, or at least interesting!

At dignify, we accept returns or exchanges within 3 months of receiving an order. We do not pay for, nor refund, shipping costs; however, in the case of an exchange, we do cover the shipping of the new, exchanged item. It's also necessary to contact us first at orders@dignify.ca. 

Most of our returns/exchanges are related to the color — not quite right for a space, for example. It happens! I learned over several years that if I received a message from someone wanting to return their blanket because of a quality problem, it always turned out that they had, in fact, ordered from somewhere else! The stitching and quality-control of our Basha blankets is exceptional — truly the "best of kantha"!

 


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