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For most of us, an online store that declares it doesn’t accept returns is a no-go. Perhaps we could possibly change our minds if the product is incredibly valuable to us and it feels like we can hardly live without it. But even then, it’s a hard sell.

A tough return policy won’t make our day either. If the cost of the return rivals the cost of the product, we will turn our noses up and move on to a more accommodating site.

And here’s another interesting observation from Entrepreneur magazine:

“In the past, business owners believed that making returns as difficult as possible would ultimately reduce them. However, hindering the return process does nothing more than leave customers unhappy and unwilling to purchase from your brand again. This is especially true for e-commerce industries like apparel.”

Our point? The road to customer loyalty is paved with free returns or, at the very least, easy returns.

When you can’t touch and see a product up close, a generous return policy is a do-or-die feature for any e-commerce store. And we’ve got statistics to back up the claim:

  • 81 percent of respondents in a UPS study said they would be relatively more loyal to online retailers that offered free, no-questions asked returns while 73 percent of the same group replied they would be less likely to purchase from a retailer if the return policy was a hassle. Although the study dates back to 2008, consumers now used to the masterly return process of Zappos have likely grown even more accustomed to being able to return anything as they please.
  • Between 58 percent and 357 percent. Those are the astounding percentages by which shoppers would increase their spending over a 2-year period when they received a free return from an online retailer. The 2012 Washington and Lee University study also found shoppers who were charged for a return would drop their future purchases by at least 74 percent and in many case would never again visit the site.

Since a great return policy make customers more likely to come back for more―and spend more―you’ve got a lot to gain. Unlike first-time customers who require considerable effort and resources to draw to your site, repeat customers may look up your store on their own at no cost to you.

For the policy to be effective, it needs to be no frills. Again, Zappos can serve as a glowing example. In two short paragraphs, the retail giant lists the straight-forward directions. Naturally, small retailers rarely have the luxury of replicating the 365-day free return policy, but you get the idea. The prepaid return shipping label is easily available for print and the package can be dropped off at the nearest UPS shipping center.

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