When a manufacturer and retailer meet to discuss the selling of product, often the subject of returns comes up. The management of customer returns is as much a part of selling most products as shelf space allocations or package design. The methods that can be used to reduce the number of consumer returns are less often discussed than the policies and procedures used to govern them. This is unfortunate because the best way to reduce the cost of returns is to reduce the number of items that consumers present for return. This can and should be accomplished by education, precise, easily understandable instructions, and a common sense approach to meeting the needs of consumers. The practice of producing ever more strict returns policies will only turn off customers and, in the end, reduce sales. Retailers have proven this over and over again.
Let’s look at a few best practices that a manufacturer can use to help consumers avoid the need to make a store return.
- Helpful packaging, if the item needs to be assembled, let the picture on the carton be one that shows the whole unit, after assembly, in a clear way, hopefully from more than one angle. If the loaf of bread that the bread maker produces is round, don’t show a picture of a rectangular loaf of bread on the package. Remember to use the package as your first line of defense against returns and your first opportunity to educate the consumer about your product.
- Instructions and package inserts, be certain that they are accurate and easy to understand. Do not let the engineers write, proofread, and approve the instructions. By all means try them out on executive assistants, spouses, warehouses workers or even an executive or two. Make sure that there are pictures that accurately reflect how the pieces fit together and how the unit will look at various stages in the assembly process.If it is a consumer electronic product, be certain that all the connecting wires or ends are color-coded and that the wires are bundled when possible. If it is possible to label parts or wires with a letter or number, by all means do so. Regular folks find that to be of great assistance in assembling a product. Note those facts in the instruction manual. All instructions and inserts should be written in multiple languages. Use a brightly colored insert to ask consumers to call your 1-800 technical support line before returning the product to the retailer as well as printing it in multiple places in the assembly instructions themselves.
- Have an 800 technical support line. The number should be on all instructions and box inserts that are available to the consumer. In large, clear fonts specify that customers must call the technical support line before returning the item to the retailer. The support line should be staffed when your customers are most likely to need it. That means evenings and weekends. This is the time when most of your customers will be assembling your products. It is always amazing to me when I see a support line open from 9:00am to 4:30 pm, Monday thru Friday. Make sure that the people who answer the phone can plainly speak the language. I know that overseas call centers are a popular means to control costs but when your customers are calling your help line they are generally already frustrated with your product. Do you really want to give them another reason to be upset with your company? Call the help line yourself, on different days of the week and at different times of day and night to see what kind of service you get.
To summarize, look at the ways to reduce store returns that have the most positive effect on consumers. You will quickly see that making effective use of your packaging, instructions, inserts and 1-800 tech support lines are the most cost effective method of improving customers satisfaction and reducing product returns. These methods are time-tested ways to make the sale stick and keep customer returns to a minimum.