Educating the not-so-web-savvy shopper about returns and exchanges


Returning holiday gifts can be a real drag. I ran into this problem first hand when I needed to exchange a few items from a small, online-only retailer. Without the option of going to a local store, I contacted the website to ask what the options were. They didn’t have any method for processing returns online or even a printable form for requesting the exchange, so I had to type up a letter explaining what I was returning and what I wanted instead, complete with a manual calculation of the amounts and shipping costs. In all, the process probably took me an hour longer than it should have.

Who buys gifts from this type of store? I don’t pretend to understand their whole customer base, but I’d guess that on average, their buyers aren’t very web-savvy. These individuals aren’t trained to think about the hassles of returns and exchanges — and the impact that their vendor choice has on the gift recipient. So, I thought I’d share a few tips for people who are fairly new to buying gifts online:

– Use a major retailer like that makes returns easy and painless.
– If you absolutely must choose a smaller retailer, be sure that they have an easy return process. Generally, this means you can request the return online, and the retailer provides a prepaid label that you just tape onto the box.
– When in doubt, buy from a company that has local stores in the area where your recipients live, as long as they allow for online purchases to be returned in the stores.

Come to think of it, these tips aren’t just useful for consumers who are trying to choose between several places to make a purchase. In addition, they’re a great way for retailers to attract more first-time online buyers. Even if novice buyers don’t come to the website with returns and exchanges in mind, it certainly can’t hurt to show them that your store makes those transactions easier than the rest.