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How not to handle Online Returns

Online returns

Meet Sarah, a young accountant in training with a taste for fashion and a large following on social media platforms. Her favourite things to buy online are takkies and sneakers, especially from her favourite brand, Cool Shoes. For the past 2 years, she has been buying all her sneakers on their website without any issues, until the day something happened to her order.

She made an order for blue and white size 5 sneakers, but when her order arrived, she found size 11 black, formal shoes. Her order was completely incorrect, so she started looking for the return policy.

The wrong way to handle returns

It took her 2 days to find the returns policy, which was written in small print at the bottom of the website “Contact Us” page. Frustrated, she decided to contact Shoes and start the returns process. After 2 weeks of trying to get in contact with Cool Shoes, the company finally responded: “We are sorry, but your product is no longer valid for a return. All our shoes have a warranty of 2 weeks, after which you can no linger return them or get a refund.” This drove Sarah to the edge and left her vowing she would never buy from Cool Shoes’ website ever again, which she documented on all her social platforms.  

How the business should handle online returns

Nowadays, your relationship with your customers has a greater effect on your sales than before. As we saw in the case above, Cool Shoes’ approach to customers returning products comes across as though they do not care about their customers’ satisfaction. This is because they did not tackle the case using customer-first tactics that look at what customers want and need when returning a product. Here are a few returns best practices Cool Shoes should have used to handle returns and to improve their CRM.

1. Make returns policy easy to find and understand

The first thing people look for when they get the wrong package is the returns policy. It is, thus, best to make sure your policy is easy to find. A great suggestion is to show your returns policy on where customers can easily find them, like:

  • Website pages
  • Purchase slips
  • Delivered packages

It’s also important to give clear and accurate details within your returns policy that customers need, including:

  • How long customers have to still return purchases
  • Products that can/cannot be returned
  • Return process
  • Cost implications of returns (if any)
  • Estimated time for return completion

If Cool Shoes had a clear return policy that was easy to find and understand, Sarah could have started and completed the returns process faster.

2. Allow returns via both shipment and in-store returns

In order to return a product, you need to know how you can get it back to the business. With items bought online, sometimes it is not as easy as taking the item to the physical store and returning it.

A brand like Cool Shoes needs to tell their customers how they can physically return the product they bought to the store, and the implications of each available method. This can include via:

  • Shipping the product back using the brand’s delivery service
  • Dropping the product off at dedicated drop-off/pick-up points
  • Returning products in-store

3. Communicate with customer throughout the returns process

When looking at Sarah’s return’s story, we clearly see that nothing made her more impatient and unhappy than not being updated on how Cool Shoes was handling her case. That’s because when a company does not tell you what they are doing about your return, it feels like they are doing nothing at all.

Cool Shoes can show customers they are acting on their requests by tracking returns processes and giving customers access to the information. This can be done using tracking technology that sends customers information on how far the returns process is. Alternatively, they can send customers messages giving them updates each time the return progresses to the next step.

4. Stay flexible

Being too rigid can leave a bad taste in your customers’ mouths. That’s because customers need options, even when it comes to returning products. This can include having a choice on:

  • How to return the product
  • When to return the product
  • How to communicate with a brand on returns
  • Whether you can return products or get a refund

A business should also be flexible with regard to the time within which a customer can make a return. Giving unreasonable timelines, like Cool Shoes’ two-week warranty on shoes, leads to customers losing trust and loyalty for your brand.


The moral of the story is simple: businesses need to make easy and stress-free experiences for all their customers, even when they are returning their products. This is the key to successful online and offline customer service, which in turn positively affects your CRM.


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