May 18, 2012

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

Check out this week’s recommended reads from around the web:

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June 7, 2010

Make Returns and Exchanges Easy For Your Customers

Filed under: Ecommerce — Tags: , — Meredith @ 6:08 am

I just had the WORST experience with returning products to I was in complete awe of how painful they made the process. I’ll never shop there again as a result. As an ecommerce business owner, this also inspired me to make my own website’s return process even easier for my own customers.

First, let me tell you what does wrong:
1. I have to log into my account to initiate a return. This means I have to remember my username/password or retrieve it. As I’ve discussed on this blog before, having to create/use accounts with ecommerce websites is a common peeve with online shoppers. That said, this hassle is a common one so it wasn’t high on the list of reasons for my disgust.

2. Once logged in, I had to click the “returns” link. Then I had to select the order I wanted to do a return for.

3. I got a screen where I had to select the item I wanted to return. This was the first major problem. I wanted to return more than one item and the form they’d created only allowed me to select ONE. I selected one of the items and clicked submit.

4. I got a screen asking the reason for the return and several radio buttons to choose from. I chose an option and clicked submit.

5. I got another screen asking for a more specific reason for my return and more radio buttons! I chose one and clicked submit.

6. I got another screen asking me to write out, in a text area box, why I wanted to return the items!!! (I’ve now been asked 3 different times why I’m returning merchandise, and it’s been on 3 different pages! If I had a dial up modem I’d probably have lost it by now.) I wrote a note and clicked submit.

7. I got a screen asking me if I wanted to print a pre-paid return label for $6.00. (My credit card would be charged for this label.) This, of course, won’t work for me, because as I said before, I had several items to return and this pre-paid label would only take postage into account for the ONE item. So I selected “no pre-paid label” and clicked submit. I then got another screen asking if I’m sure I don’t want a pre-paid label. The page went on to tell me why pre-paid labels are awesome. I already know I don’t want the damn pre-paid label, so I say no.

8. I finally got a screen with instructions on where to mail my return.

That’s an awful lot of steps to return something! Not only that, I have to repeat steps 2-8 for each item I want to return!!! I had 6 items to return. Needless to say, I never want to look at again. I am sure the thinking over at is that if you make returns really miserable people won’t want to make returns. I am sure they also think a lot of people are unsavvy enough to pay for a pre-paid label for each item they want to return when they have more than one item to return. No doubt that return postage is a profit-center for This short-sighted thinking turns off customers though. I spend thousands of dollars online every year at ecommerce sites and buy nearly everything I own online. Turning away customers like myself is probably costing more than they’re making from their nickel and dime return postage scam.

Now, the good news is that this nightmare of a returns process encouraged me to improve my own return process for my ecommerce website. Being a small online business I’d been doing things pretty informally. If customers wanted to return something they just had to drop me a line for details on where to send the return. My online business has more than tripled in the last year though, and it’s high time I made things a little more streamlined. This debacle was just the kick in the ass I needed.

Here’s what I now do for returns:
1. I set up an easy-to-type URL for my returns page on my website. (I used

2. I made my returns page easy to find. I’ve linked my returns page on the footer of my site, added the URL to our invoices that go out in our orders, and linked it on the “returns” portion of our FAQ page.

3. My returns page simply asks customers for 4 pieces of information (all on one screen). I request:
– Order ID
– Whether this will be a return or exchange
– A quick note on reason for return/exchange
– How the customer would like their refund issued (I allow customers to select gift card, credit back to the purchasing account or refund to an alternate Paypal account. The first and last option are to accommodate people who received their order as a gift.)

4. Once the customer clicks submit they get a page with our returns address and instructions.

This process is quick and easy for my customers, and it gives me all the information I truly need to handle returns. Making returns easy for my customers makes it much more likely that they’ll order from my website again in the future.

If you sell on a site like Etsy or ArtFire you can still set up something like this for your customers. I truly believe that anyone selling online should have their own website, even if it’s just to house your portfolio, contact information and a link to your hosted web shop. You can set up a returns form on your website and include a link to it on your packaging invoice.

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April 14, 2010

The Best Thing I Did For My Business Part 3: Giving Customers VIP Deals

Filed under: Case Studies — Tags: , , , , , — Meredith @ 8:27 am
It’s So Good – C’est Si Bon Greeting Card by Letterpress

Everyone loves to save some cash, especially in this economy. That’s why special deals are a great way to boost sales. Some entrepreneurs I spoke with found success offering specials both on site, via email and via social media.

Special Offers Page’s “Best Deals” page has been a huge hit with their customers. This page is fast becoming one of the most popular on their site. Although Fat Wallet is a deals and discounts website, you can use this tactic too. Last week I wrote an article about how a “special offers” page can help you boost conversions. Take another look in case you missed it.

Free Shipping, Free Returns! recently implemented a free shipping, free returns policy. “Since the inception of this practice they haven’t noticed an increase in their return rates, but actually an increase in their sales. They like to say this way people can see if the painting “fits” in their home before feeling like they’re completely committed.” The increase in sales without an increase in returns is particularly interesting to note. I wrote an article on the free shipping, free returns model back in January. My article includes advice on alternatives to this model, although this model is ideal if you can manage to implement it.

Discounts by Email
Gary West Meats says that sending a newsletter each month to their mailing list subscribers has yielded a 63% boost in sales! They’ve found that Tuesdays and Fridays are especially great days for sending promotions and that customers responded best to promotions for gift items and discounts on the item of their choice. “Everyone likes something different so they can choose what they want to buy that way.”

Want to start an email marketing program or improve your existing one? Here are some articles on that topic.

Tried these tactics?
Discuss your experiences with offering deals and discounts in the comments below.

<< Read Part 1: Self-Promotion
<< Read Part 2: Twitter
Read Part 4: Expanding Your Line >>
Read Part 5: Success by Association >>
Read Part 6: Well-Timed Campaigns >>
Read Part 7: Stimulating the Senses >>
Read Part 8: Harnessing the Press >>

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March 16, 2010

When Customers Complain, How Do You Respond?

Filed under: Ecommerce — Tags: , , — Meredith @ 7:59 am

I recently had an issue with a vendor. They’d sent me a defective product. When I contacted them to let them know about it, they asked me to send them pictures of the defects. As a customer here’s what I thought:

a. If I got a defective shipment I am probably not the only one, you’ve probably had this complaint before yet you’re treating me with suspicion.

b. You’re treating me with suspicion. Like I don’t have better things to do than email you about some imaginary problem?

c. You screwed up and now you want me to go to the trouble of taking pictures and emailing them to you?


This should get you thinking about how you respond when your customers complain. If a customer emails and says their bracelet clasp broke after one wear do you immediately send her a replacement or do you demand she send you the broken product first? If a customer calls to say that the lining in the new handbag she ordered from you is falling apart after just a few weeks do you try to blow her off?

Every company has different policies with regard to customer complaints. Some are more generous, or maybe trusting, when it comes to their customers. Others are more likely to make things a more difficult for customers. While placing the burden of proof on customers when a problem arises might sound like a good way to protect yourself from being conned, it’s also a good way to further alienate an unhappy customer with a legitimate complaint.

When a customer has a complaint, they’re at a crossroads. They’ve had a bad experience and it can be made a whole lot worse by a retailer who makes them jump through hoops. On the flip side, this is an opportunity to really delight a customer with top notch customer service and turn them into a loyal brand advocate.

Customer service done the right way: A few years ago I bought a sofa from Pottery Barn. About a year into owning the sofa, I found the material inside the sofa cushions was coming out through the upholstery like crazy! Even though it had been a year since my purchase, I called Pottery Barn to complain. They didn’t demand proof of my complaint, they didn’t ask me to mail them back the defective cushions. They immediately express shipped replacement cushions free of charge, along with a coupon for a future purchase. Their fast and satisfying response to my complaint reinforced my positive image of Pottery Barn. As a result, I will shop with them again in the future and recommend them to others.

So what do you when a customer complains? Take them at their word? Make things right only after they’ve shown proof of a defect? Hold your ground and tell them to suck it up?

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February 2, 2010

What You Can Learn from Home Depot’s Mistakes

Filed under: Ecommerce — Tags: , , , — Meredith @ 2:51 am

I am pretty angry with Home Depot right now.  They’re a huge corporation and won’t really know or care that a small time indie biz blogger is calling them out. Frankly my aim isn’t to make them care, my aim is to tell you what they did wrong so you don’t make the same mistake.

    Lesson 1: Make Sure You Handle Packages with Care
    Last month I ordered a space heater from Home Depot and it arrived broken. The package wasn’t marked fragile or packaged especially well. It’s not surprising it was broken. As a result I’m not a customer enjoying my purchase. I’m a customer being given errands. Fill out this form, drop this thing off at UPS, wait for a refund. Thanks a lot, Home Depot.

    Lesson 2:  Pay Attention When You Get Returns
    Home Depot got our return and charged us for the return shipping! We called and sat on hold for a very long time, until finally we got a human on the phone. We explained that we didn’t feel we should have to pay to return a broken item. They agreed but…

    Lesson 3: Make Life Easier on Your Customers
    The customer service person informed me that since the charge was in some sort of limbo (charged but not actually having gone through) we’d have to call back again in a week to ask them to refund the shipping charges! Why can’t they just remember to do it themselves? Make a note or something. At this point I’ve been sent a broken heater, forced to go out of my way to mail it back, been mistakenly charged more money for this inconvenience, forced to call and sit on hold to complain about it and now I’m being asked to call and sit on hold AGAIN!

This is a pretty big customer service fail. I probably won’t order from Home Depot again as a result. This isn’t to say I expect retailers to be perfect. Mistakes happen. It’s how they’re handled that can help or hurt your business.

Here are a few examples of ways we’ve fixed oops moments that resulted in satisfied customers in my online retail business:

    1. We sent them the wrong item
    Every once in a while there’s a mix up in our shipping department. Some times we do send the wrong thing. When this happens I tell the customer they can either a. return the item on our dime or b. keep it and give it to a friend. Customer is left with two options and he or she can decide how they want to handle it.

    2. We are out of stock
    Sometimes we run out of inventory at the same time that an order comes in for the out of stock item. We do eventually get the item back, but occasionally it’s outside our usual window for shipping a product. When this happens we alert the customer and offer to cancel their order or ship the item for free when it does arrive in stock. We also offer a coupon code for the customer’s next order, in the hopes that they will give us another try.

    3. The post office screwed up
    This isn’t so much us screwing up, but it happens. Some times the post office takes longer than it should to deliver a parcel. Occasionally parcels get lost.  In these situations we give the customer their shipping fee back and a coupon code for their next purchase. If a package gets lost, we replace it on our dime.

Does doing the right thing for customers cost money? Yes. Does it take time? Definitely. On the plus side, most customers are pretty happy with us and we get a lot of repeat business and word of mouth referrals. So in the end doing the right thing helps us grow as a business.

How have you fixed your oops customer service moments?   Are there things you can change in your return or shipping practices to provide better service?

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