1. Make returns easy (while collecting good data)
You never want to make it difficult for customers to return products they’re unhappy with, but you also don’t want to miss a chance to collect useful data.
By following up with customers after their purchase, or providing a simple link to make a product return, a retailer can invite consumers to offer feedback about a return in their own words. Monitoring social media posts about a regularly-returned product gives companies another data source.
2. Receive and inspect a returned product
A returned product is now back in your possession, so what are you going to do with it? Before returning it to a supplier (or tossing it into some dark corner) spend some time with it and collect data.
If it’s not fundamentally broken, why has a customer fallen out of love with it? What’s changed? Set up a process to inspect at least a portion of incoming products, and enable employees to note issues in their own words, to add richness to the data.
3. Apply advanced returns analytics
Thanks to that early data collection and analytics to detect patterns in your data, you as a retailer will know, even before that package comes back, that the sizing is off for a particular item.
An employee’s inspection has also helped establish that the size ‘medium’ on your brand’s sizing chart is more consistent with ‘large’ in the real world.
This allows you to remedy the situation before any more returns occur — and any more customers become unhappy with their purchase.
4. Act on that customer feedback
If you know that something is ‘off’ about a particular product, be proactive. This is especially important if you have an online store.
A retailer can act proactively by adding detail to the product description, advising future customers to order a shirt style a size up from their usual order. The retailer can also take corrective steps with the vendor to comply with sizing guidelines for future orders.
5. Practice continuous business improvement
With these changes in place, future orders of this basic shirt style will be better merchandised and sized, to prevent product returns. For those shirts that do come back, the retailer can fine-tune descriptions, specs and sizing to drive out new issues as they emerge.
Over time, the retailer will learn to do things correctly the first time, reducing product returns and fostering happy repeat customers.
Certainly, product returns at first seem like nothing more than a necessary evil, and the mechanics of returns, a routine occurrence. But instead, look at it as an opportunity to improve your product quality and understanding of what customers want. That return may soon begin to look more like an important tool for effective retailing.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.