The Dumbest Mistakes When Returning A Product To An Online Vendor

My eCommerce business has now shipped over 100,000 orders since late 2015. We have a return rate of about 2.5% which means we've probably processed about 2500 returns and I personally received and processed every single one of them. For the most part, it is a simple and routine part of my workload but there are some patterns I see from our customers that DRIVE ME NUTS.

The returns from the last several days that I will be processing today

Below are some of those patterns distilled into some suggestions and advice that I wish my customers would read… but alas it would probably be a little rude to include the below in each package that goes out the door.

Um, You Just Returned The Thing You Said You Want

Yeah, this happens all the time. Someone ships something back to us claiming we shipped them the wrong one. Sometimes they want a refund and other times they would like an exchange. I open up the package, read the note, look at the product and say to myself “you just shipped me the thing you said you want.”

Before you ship back a product triple check that it isn't the right thing. Maybe the packaging looks a little different than what you saw online, maybe you are looking at the product wrong and falsely identifying it, or perhaps you just don't actually know how to use/recognize the thing you just bought.

Instead of jumping to conclusions contact customer service and ask clarifying questions. Include pictures of what they shipped you and ask if this is the correct product. Trust me its frustrating for the business and embarrassing¬†and frustrating for you to find out you screwed up. When I call you on the phone and say, “if you wanted an X I can just ship you back the thing you just returned,” you are going to feel foolish.

Uh, You Shipped Your Return To The Wrong Place or Didn't Include The Thing We Need to Refund You

The big key here is ASK for return instructions and then follow those instructions.

For example, a lot of modern online retailers drop ship products from various different locations or manufacturers. The origin address on the package that you receive may NOT be the correct address to send the return. This is a common issue for us. We include a card inside every package that tells the customer to NOT return the package to the address on the label and we still get about 12 returns a month to that address.

Even more frustrating is when people don't include any identifying information in the package. Something shows up and when I open it I just find the product. No order number, customer name or information, or anything else that would be helpful. Sometimes I can find an order that has the same return address but this is more problematic when people take things to a UPS store or small shipping service retailer that will put their own address on the return label instead of the home address of the customer.

At very least if you do nothing else just include a piece of paper with a name, address, email address, and phone number. Then if we can't find your order at least we can call you and ask you for more information.

You Just Super Overpaid To Ship This Back to Me

Ok, this is no skin off my back but it still hurts a little when I see that my customer just overpaid to ship back a product. If the customer is paying for return shipping then that will leave a bigger sting than it needs to and if they are using a prepaid label provided by the company and they use the wrong packaging then the business may have to pay for the difference in postage when it arrives.

The most common issue is the use of flat-rate packaging. USPS flat rate boxes are generally the best deal in postage when you are shipping something that is heavy. The Flat Rate box is the same postage no matter the weight so putting a lightweight, small product in a box and filling it up with newspaper is almost guaranteed to cost you more than you need to pay.

Take a cue from the vendor. However they shipped it to you, that is probably the cheapest way to ship it back to them.

Here Is An Idea; Call Us Before You Call Your Credit Card Company

This is the worst. I get a notification from the merchant company (the guys that help us accept credit cards) notifying us that a customer has just disputed the credit card charge. I contact the customer to ask why they disputed the charge and they respond with, “It wasn't what I wanted” or “I want to return it.”

Disputing credit card charges when you did, in fact, authorize the charge is dishonest and painful for everyone involved. You may have to get a new credit card which is an inconvenience to you. On our end, we are charged a fee for every dispute and we have to put together a packet of evidence to prove we, in fact, did get a payment from YOU and we did in fact ship you a product.

Now if you have gone the rounds with a retailer and they are treating you like crap and not willing to enforce the return/refund policy they claim to have in place then sure, go ahead and call your card company. But if you need customer service, like wanting to return the product for a refund, call/email or otherwise contact the company before you go to the effort of disputing the charge on your card.

With a lot of card companies once you dispute it I cannot refund you even if I want to. It puts the transaction in a category of untouchable and if I can show them that the charge came from you and I shipped the product to your billing address you may never see that money back. Just contact us and tell us what you need.

Well, Did You Read Our Return Policy During Checkout?

I feel like a jerk when we get contacted by someone asking us to do something completely outside of our policy and I have to say no. We generally will go outside of the policy to make customers happy but sometimes we get requests that we cannot honor for one reason or another and if the customer had just read the policy before checking out they would have known about those restrictions.

When you buy something online that costs more than you think about 5 minutes of your time is worth; READ THE RETURN POLICY. I know this is a pain and nobody does it but before you drop $100 don't you think it is worth reading a policy that you can read in under 5 minutes?

Next Time Don't Throw Away The Paperwork & Packaging

A lot of companies have a policy that you can't return something if it shows clear signs of wear and use. One of the best ways to demonstrate that you didn't use it at all or very much is to carefully put it back in the original packaging the best you can. Not only does this at very least suggest minimum use but the company may appreciate that they don't have to spend money on more packaging to be able to repackage and resell the product you've returned.

When something arrives in the mail you don't know what all you may need in order to return it. Keep the packing slip (which has your order number on it) and all the product packaging at least until you are 100% confident you won't be returning it.

Actually, We Would Love For You To Review Us

There is a tendency among customers who have a positive return experience to think they are doing the company a favor by not writing an online review. Afterall we don't want potential customers to see that you didn't like the product enough to keep it right? WRONG.

Customers sometimes do not purchase a product because they are concerned about the potential work involved in returning it if they don't like it. If you have a positive experience in the return and refund of your order then write a positive review. Tell people the product wasn't for you but you were very happy with how easy it was to contact the business and get the return done. This will help customers who have reservations about a potential return to feeling comfortable enough to buy.

Keep The Tracking Number

When you ship that return package KEEP the receipt that has the tracking number on it. You never know what might happen. The package might be lost by the Post Office or you might have accidentally forgotten to include the return paperwork.

That tracking number is the only other proof you have that you returned the product to the vendor. Don't throw it out until the refund posts to your credit card.

Oh, and while not deserving of a full section of this article please also:

  • Do not write your credit card number on the return paperwork
  • Return the correct product to the correct company
  • Type and print the return letter/request if your handwriting sucks
  • If you smoke or someone in your home smokes try spraying the product with Fabreeze before you package it up and hope we'll refund you
  • If you have pets try a lint roller on the product so as to remove all the hair before you send it back for a refund
  • Avoid using packaging that isn't recyclable. When I open returns I have two piles… one for packaging that I can put in our recycle bin and one for packaging that will go in the garbage. If it isn't fragile, don't use a bubble mailer.

Hopefully, you found that advice helpful… and next time we are hanging out together ask me for my best return stories. I got some doozies that you wouldn't believe.

Leave a Comment