7 tips to help small businesses successfully manage online returns

managing online returnsProduct returns are always going to be part and parcel of online selling. The nature of the online environment means that unless a customer visits a bricks and mortar store first, they can’t physically examine a product or service prior to purchase.

Although a bit of a nuisance, returns are expected even by the major online brands. The trick is to handle your returns as efficiently and effectively possible. If you have a well-managed returns procedure created with your customer’s needs in mind then returns can have positive impact on your business.

‘Our best customers have the highest return rates’ Zappos

Handling returns can be annoying but try to view your returns in a positive way. Online shoe retailer Zappos maintains it is their customers with the highest returns rate that spend the most money and are the most profitable.  Successfully managed returns can;

  • Improve retention rates and repeat sales through building customer loyalty
  • Help conversions by acting as a trust signpost 
  • Showcase great customer service
  • Provide a competitor advantage

How to keep your return rate low

Even with the positives a well-managed returns procedure can bring, there is no doubt that they can be annoying and can cost small businesses valuable time and money. Here are a few simple to implement tips to help you lower your return rates.

Realistic customer expectations. As we mentioned earlier because customers don’t have the opportunity to try the product before they purchase, they are reliant on the information you provide. Therefore the more accurate you are in your descriptions and the more realistic your imagery the less likely there will be a difference in what your customers are expecting to receive and what actually gets delivered.

  • Product pages. Use accurate, detailed descriptions for every product. Imagery is essential, the more accurate the better. Try offering multi-angle or 360° photos. Video also works really well as it shows the product off motion.

customer reviewsCustomer reviews. Customer reviews help manage customer expectations. For example if I was about to buy a top and wasn’t sure about the sizing, a customer review might mention that the top comes up on the large size so I would know to size down, consequently reducing the likelihood of me having to return the top.

 

Offer detailed guides and instructions. Many products are returned simply because a customer is struggling to put together or set up an item. Help them out as much as possible by including simple instructions and guides with the product. Have a video ‘how to guide’ on your website that you can direct them to and a helpline number that they can contact you on – it will reduce returns and save you time in the long run.

7 Best practice tips

Outlined below are seven best practice tips to you manage your online returns successfully.

eu distance selling régulations1. Have a clear, easy-to-understand returns policy and procedure. Your website should clear returns policy and procedure. Take a look at clothing retailer White Stuff returns page. It focuses on their customer’s needs by making it easy to find,  straightforward to understand and outlining their customers rights. Reiterate you returns procedure and policy on your invoice that is included with the product.

Ensure you are aware of the legal distance selling regulations for your country and the rights your customers have. For example in the UK you should be familiar with the Sales of Goods Act and the  EU distance selling regulations.  Changes to regulations in June 2014 extended returns to 14 days from receipt of goods. Useful websites include:

Gov.UK – online and distance selling for businesses

EU – rights when shopping online

Sales of Goods Act

2. Offer free returns.  For a small online business with narrow profit margins this may be a hard one to swallow but the benefits of offering free returns to your customers will usually outweigh any costs. Customers really won’t appreciate a hefty return postage fee cost and it will put people off coming back to you. Focus on the long-term benefit of customer retention. In addition providing free returns is a great selling point and can help with conversions so don’t forget to flag it up on your website.

3. Make it  convenient.  Successful businesses always have customer needs at the heart of everything they do. Think about how you can make your returns procedure convenient and hassle free for your customers. Try:

  • including a pre-printed and pre-paid returns label in with your packaging. Offering a downloadable returns label like White Stuff on the returns page of your website is also helpful as many customers will mislay the one included with the product paperwork.
  • think also about offering click and collect options to customers.  They than have the option to return their item to a local click and collect shop at their own convenience.

don't argue over customer returns4. Don’t argue over returns. This is another area where it pays to think long-term. Splitting hairs with customers over returns is going to lose you business and reduce your retention rates. Most returns will be genuine but sometimes you may just have to suck up a spurious return and focus on the bigger picture. Use a policy of ‘no quibble’ returns is a great selling point and can give you an advantage over your competitors.

5. Get feedback. Try to get feedback from your customers when they make a return. Feedback can be really useful as it can help you identify and tackle potential problem areas. For example if a number of products are returned because ‘product not as depicted’ it means you may need to address your product descriptions and improve your product images.

6. Prompt customer communications. The prompter you are in your communications with your customers the happier your customers will be and the more positive they will feel towards your business. As soon as you receive your customer’s returns, email them with confirmation of receipt of goods and inform them when they can expect to receive their refund. Contact them again when you have issued their refund. Customers will appreciate your efficiency and it will stop them having to contact your customer service department.

discount returned items7. Resale on returned items.  It’s not always possible to resell returned items at full price, for example if the packaging is damaged. So you’re not stuck with lots of returned stock taking up valuable storage space, it makes sense to get rid of it. Offer such products at a discounted price on your website – maybe under a ‘ clearance section’ or even on eBay. It may not give you the profit you wanted but it may mean you break even and avoid mounting storage costs.  It is essential if you are doing this that you clearly state any damage – this way the customer won’t be able to return the item as he or she was aware of the damage prior to purchase.

Hopefully we’ve shown that returns aren’t necessarily a bad thing and that if managed well you can find ways to reduce your returns rate. Implementing a best practice returns procedure will also help your business in the long run in term of stronger customer relations, trust and goodwill.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on online returns, so please do leave a comment. 

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7 Solid Reasons Why You Should Pay Attention to Customer Reviews

Online commerce and the popularity of social media have truly made customer the king. Customer reviews are shaping consumer decisions to a great extent, and this influence is expected to rise further. Shopper experiences and preferences are being shared widely and enthusiastically, impacting the bottomlines of many businesses.

Smart businesses have long since realized this shift in power in the favor of the consumer and have started tweaking their marketing strategies to accommodate growing reviews and customer engagement in general.

As a business you need these reviews if you want to stay competitive and grow. Here are only seven reasons why customer reviews are important and what paying attention to them will achieve for you.

1. Reviews Build Credibility for Your Business

In this day and age businesses are dealing with very smart and knowledgeable consumers. It’s very unlikely anyone is going to take you at face value. It’s also very unlikely they will buy what you have to say via paid advertisements.

Instead, your target buyers will research your background and will pay particular attention to the user reviews you have received. Positive or negative, all reviews are being read and mulled over. As per one survey, positive customer reviews influence the buying decisions of 90% of shoppers, while negative reviews influence the purchase decisions of 86% of shoppers. That’s a big number that no business can or should ignore.

If a quick search on you does not turn up an adequate number of positive reviews, your target shoppers will very likely not proceed with doing any business with you because you have not done enough to come across as a bankable option to them.

On the other hand, if a search on you returns a high number of negative reviews, you will lose many potential customers, as well as some of the existing ones.

Customer reviews mean a lot to shoppers today and here’s why:

  • User reviews are reassuring for people who have never done business with you. Customer reviews have a human touch about them which makes them believable.
  • Detailed reviews can remove doubts in the minds of shoppers about certain products or services, making them more likely to go ahead with their purchase decision.
  • People feel better about their decision when they see many others have taken a similar one too.
  • Many of the shoppers are avid reviewers themselves and are instinctively wary of an ecommerce site or any business that is lacking in this aspect.

Reviews Build Credibility for Your Business
More and more people are basing their purchase decisions on the social presence and credibility garnered by businesses. It’s no longer enough to be good at what you do, you need your customers to say as much about you, and you need them to do this in big numbers.

2. Reviews Help Increase Your Sales

A glowing review is always good to read but it can do a lot more than make you happy. More people finding you credible and giving you the thumbs-up leads to many more giving you a chance and shopping with you. If you do a good job of satisfying your customers, expect to see a rise in sales figures for your business on the back of a considerable number of good user reviews.

3. Reviews Tell You If Your Marketing Is Working

So you have been pumping your heart and soul into marketing your business but are not sure whether it is reaching the target audience or whether it is having the desired effect on your target audience?

Invite them to leave a review with you and you will know exactly where you stand. Pay attention to the tone of the reviews, whether it is positive, negative or lukewarm: “Lukewarm reviews are gentle indicators that something–your strategy, customer service, quality assurance, even your product–is off. Like miners in the dark, it’s imperative to pay attention to these online chirps–and course-correct before it’s too late.
How Online Reviews Make (or Break) Your Business

Every review tells you something. Be attuned into them to glean precious information out of them.

4. Reviews Help you Improve Customer Experience

Reviews Help you Improve Customer Experience
Reviews many a time contain detailed feedback. Anyone who has compared products online would know this. Some reviewers go to great extents to put their point across.

That is pure gold for a business. If you want to improve user experience, which you should if you value customer service, here are your customers telling you in no uncertain terms exactly what they like and/or dislike about your products and services. Many of them take out the time to pen in detail how you have helped them and also delineate areas where you have been found wanting.

People telling you exactly what you need to do to improve should be immediately taken into consideration, though whether you act on it or not may depend on a number of factors. Many companies, big and small, take customer feedback into account and release updated versions of their products that aim at improving the user experience. People like being listened to. So encourage shoppers to leave detailed reviews on your website or via social media so that you can improve customer experience and boost your chances of customer retention as well as customer acquisition.

5. Reviews Allow You to Shape Your Narrative about Yourself

A lot is being written about businesses on various websites all over the world. Some of it is positive, a lot of it is negative. But all this dependence on customer reviews does not mean businesses are helpless; in fact, far from it.

It is true that your customers are now calling the shots. However, they only do so based on what you provide them with (or as in this case, don’t provide them with) in the first place.

So that you are not caught napping by a string of harmful reviews or deliberate misinformation circulating around the Internet about your business, become proactive and start collecting positive reviews.

Also, find negative reviews about yourself and address them. An indifference to user reviews may prove costly to your business but a smart handling of them will allow you to shape your desired narrative about yourself.

6. Reviews Help You Rise in Google Search Rankings

Your competitors who have been doing their bit in collecting positive reviews and combatting negative ones are likely to feature higher up than you in search results as well as inspire more confidence in shoppers.

In stark contrast, the indifferent presence of your business on the Web, accompanied by negative or a low amount of reviews, will harm your online reputation and lose you many potential customers.

If you have been engaging in local SEO efforts but have not been paying equal attention to reviews and recommendations, then you have been selling yourself short.

So instead of tumbling down Google search rankings because you couldn’t be bothered about user reviews, approach this matter as an opportunity to rise through the ranks and gain more customers in the process.

7. Reviews Keep You in Touch with Times

Technology is forcing businesses to keep up with the pace of innovation to stay relevant.

The consumer base is increasingly aware of the options available to them. They are always scouting for the best deals and services they can buy for their money. If there’s anybody out there offering even a slightly better service than you, chances are your customers will find them and flock to them.

When people find a better deal, they are also very eager to inform their social circles about it. Information like this spreads fast via word of mouth on social media and on review sites. Somebody mentioning another business on your Twitter feed should ideally make you want to check them out soon as you can to ascertain what they are doing better or if there’s something you can learn from them.

Customer reviews and sundry comments are thus an excellent source of market intelligence. Newer businesses are dynamic and the social media is a vibrant place. People love to share and exchange information. As an alert business you can be a direct beneficiary of this by tapping into the consumer sentiment and evolving strategies and policies to keep up with the changing times, expectations, and demands.

Conclusion

We have stated here seven reasons for you to take user reviews seriously, but rest assured there are many more. These, however, should make you want to sit up and take stock of how you have been approaching your online marketing efforts.

Overall, you lose customers and fall behind times when you take an indifferent approach to user reviews. But when you are convinced of the power of customer reviews and devise an active strategy to collect them, you gain greater business credibility, higher sales, and at times enhanced customer loyalty as well.

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7 indispensable time management tips for small business owners

Time management for small businessWhy does it always feel that there are never quite enough hours in the day? Lack of time is a challenge most small online business owners face daily. The very nature of a small business or start-up means constantly juggling multiple tasks, trying not to let anything slip. Small business owners have to wear many hats, dealing tasks ranging from formulating company strategy to changing a printer cartridge.

Interestingly,  50% of small business owners feel lack of time is one of the most difficult aspects of owning a small business – even higher than making a profit!   Clearly getting on top of managing your time effectively is something worth conquering.  In the US 1 in 4 small business owners believes that  just one extra hour in the working day is worth more than $500. Successful time management can help:

  • increase productivity   
  • reduce stress levels
  • improve efficiency 
  • cut time-wasting.

We take a look at some practical, easy to implement tips that will help you better manage your valuable time.

1. Prioritise

There are always going to be some tasks that need to be prioritised over others. The trick is to ensure you focus on the real priorities rather than just the tasks that are easier or of more interesting. Before embarking on your working day decide what your priorities are. A simple way to do this is to get into the daily habit of categorising tasks into order of importance and urgency. This way you can focus on the tasks that have to be completed today rather than ending up spending your time on something that really could wait.  For example categorise tasks into groups –

 1 – Critical tasks. Important tasks that have to be completed  today or you face significant consequences

2 – Tasks essential to the daily smooth running of your business – important but not so urgent as your critical tasks

 3 – Everything else. 

Ensure you get everything completed in group 1 before you move onto group 2 and then only move on to group 3 when all the tasks in group 2 are completed. Getting into the discipline of prioritising your daily workload will enable you better focus your time on the areas that matter rather than being sidetracked by the ‘nice’ but not essential’ tasks.

planning2. Plan

Planning follows neatly on from prioritising. Once you know your priorities then you can schedule them into your day. A schedule can sometimes be more effective than a ‘to do’ list. There is a tendency to just keep adding to a ‘to do list’ until it becomes a very long, endless list of tasks – which is no help to anyone.

Juggling lots of things at the same time makes it difficult to see the wood for the trees. Try putting half an hour aside first thing to plan and prioritise. This will help you feel in more control of what you are doing. Think realistically about what you want to achieve that day and plan your day around those task. At the end of the day it feels rewarding to have completed what you set out to do.

There are certain times of the day that we work better. For example if you know you are a morning person then plan to get all the tasks that you know you need to focus on done first thing. Plan the routine ‘no brainer’ jobs during the afternoon slump time – it’s a far more productive use of your time. Trying to get complex tasks done when you are tired will take twice as long as it would if you were fresh and at your best.

staying motivated3. Stay motivated

Small online business owners often work from home and as a consequence can find themselves spending long period of time alone. Humans are inherently social creatures so it can be demotivating not having people around to banter with or bounce ideas off. The weight of your business usually rests on your shoulders alone so keeping motivated is essential. Of course everybody has an off day now and then but you need to remain motivated to ensure you stick to plans, manage your time well and stay focused.

  • Make time to be social. Try joining small business discussion forums or local networking groups. This can be a good way to share any small business concerns or ideas you have amongst like-minded people.
  • Take regular breaks. Typically the human brain uses up its energy reserves in 60-90 minutes so putting time aside to recharge is essential.
  • Try exercise. research shows that regular exercise is closely linked to increased levels of motivation.
  • Remind yourselves of all the positives. It can be all too easy to focus on the harder aspects of owning a business. Make time to remember all the great benefits there are to being your own boss!

organised work space4 . Streamline your processes and organise your work space

Sounds simple but an ordered workspace will make you more efficient. A messy, cluttered environment can be a real distraction. Keep on top of paperwork and have a proper filing system in place.

Think about what processes could be streamlined in your business. For example, do you spend hours a week dealing with customer queries? If so implement a Help / Frequently Asked Question page on your website and direct people there as their first port of call.  Can you set up templates for routine communications? The more efficient you can make your systems and processes the more time you will be able to free up.

And, don’t forget there are some excellent automated software and apps available to help you in all aspects of your business such as time management, task management, scheduling, accounting and email, to name just a few.  Work out what areas you could do with a bit of help and investigate some of the software on offer.

time management procrastination5. Stop procrastinating

We’ve all been there. It’s all too easy to put off things we don’t won’t to do by focusing our efforts on more enjoyable things. Many a time I’ve put off doing a task I’m dreading by distracting myself with other ‘pressing’ jobs such as tidying the house or surfing the internet. Of course we all know that in long run the unwanted task doesn’t go away and often just gets worse the longer we leave it. So instead of leaving it to fester,  grab the bull by the horns and just deal with it. I promise you’ll feel a whole letter better and waste a lot less time by getting uncomfortable tasks done as soon as possible.

“Done is better than perfect”

We also put things off by spending too long trying to get things perfect. Perfectionism can eat up your time like nothing else. Sometimes it’s better to just do ‘good enough’ and get it finished  so you can move on to the next thing.

6. Delegate or outsource

We all have things that we are better at doing than others. But as small businesses owners the need for control in all areas of our business can mean we end up doing absolutely everything – even things that we know we could easily  delegate or outsource to somebody else. It is always going to be a struggle to keep up with the demands of a small business. According to research, the average small business owner has between 3-6 different roles in any one day. If you want to manage your time more effectively try outsourcing or delegating areas you don’t enjoy or  feel confident doing to someone who is better placed to do it. It will free up your time to focus on other important areas.

managing distractions7. Get rid of distractions

Distractions can disrupt all you good time management intention. You could be cracking on with a priority task only to get distracted by a phone call, email or social media update. Once distracted it can be hard to get back to the task in hand and you can end up wasting a lot of valuable time.  Learn what things are most likely to distract you and have a strategy to cut those distractions out until you have got on what you need.

The average American worker admits to “wasting” about 3 hours of a typical 8 hour work day (not including lunch breaks).

For example group together routine tasks such as admin, social media updates, answering non-urgent emails and phone-calls and build in a specific time of the day to deal with all such tasks. Put your phone on silent log-out of the social media, close the door and focus on getting on with what is important.

The very nature of small business means we’ll always want more hours in the day. Of course that’s impossible, however getting on top of time management will help you better cope with the many jobs and pressures you deal with on a daily basis. In return increasing your productivity and helping lower your stress levels.

We’d love to hear your own tips on time management – so please do share you thoughts and experiences.