The assignment for this essay was to “…think about the elements of product return policies. Make a list of at least 6 elements or attributes of the return policy (e.g., no questions asked, money back guarantee, etc) that make the product more appealing. List these attributes in the order of their importance and describe the attributes of the return policy, that if missing, would be a deal breaker and make you less likely to buy the product.” I earned a 10/10 for the below essay.
A return policy is a very important aspect of my personal purchase decision process, especially when buying a new product. When buying a used product, one may expect the return policy to not be as lenient as when buying a new product. For instance, there are many vendors who use a “sold as is” policy, meaning even if the product is found defective it cannot be returned. There are other vendors, notably car and computer hardware manufacturers, who actually offer a similar, if not equivalent, return and warranty policy for used or refurbished products to their new products. For example, Apple provides the same one year limited warranty on its’ refurbished computers as on their brand-new computers and BMW offers a 50,000 mile warranty on both new and pre-owned vehicles (although the years, 4 versus 2, do differ). For new products, I expect the manufacturer to assume the risk of ownership, to a reasonable extent, within the initial period of owning the new product. In other words, if I buy a product, I expect the manufacturer to allow me to return or exchange the product if it proves to be defective or unsatisfactory. The important attributes of a return policy depend on the product being purchased.
A vendor must provide a reasonable period of time to use a purchased product before the returns are disallowed. To this extent, I generally avoid vendors and or products which do not offer a 30 day return period. There are obvious exceptions to this rule, especially for products which do not have a 30 day life span such as consumable goods, food for instance, and temporary services, such as a stay at a hotel. There are additional exceptions, when a product will experience wear and tear during a 30 day period, such as a car or computer, that make it acceptable to offer a shorter return policy; otherwise I will generally not purchase a product I expect to last for a long period without a 30 day return policy. In my mind, a company that does not offer 30 days to test out and use a product must not be confident of the quality and durability of its’ product, which discourages me from buying such a product from such a vendor.
Another important property, I personally look for in a vendor’s return policy, is the ability to return the product for any reason. For instance, if I buy a set of speakers advertised as being the greatest speakers in the world, and yet after two weeks of using the speakers I am unimpressed, I should be able to return the speakers to the store for a full refund without having to explain why I am returning the speakers. It is acceptable if the merchant asks why I am returning the product so that they may improve the product, but if they retain the right to deny a return because I did not enjoy the product as expected, I will have to analyze my purchase decision in greater scrutiny than if the vendor offered a “no questions asked” policy.
For products that are either defective, of poor quality, or in any other fashion not as advertised, all costs, such as restocking fees or shipping and handling fees should be paid for by the vendor. In addition, any shipping and handling costs the customer had to pay should be refunded upon return. If the reason for the return is beyond the customer simply changing their mind, the customer should not have to suffer the loss of these costs. It is only fair that the consumer is returned to a financial position equivalent to their position before the purchase in scenarios where the return is due to a product defect or other negative aspect of the product for which the store or manufacturer is at fault.
In a global marketplace that is increasingly experiencing a synergy between brick and mortar stores and their online presence, the ability to return products I’ve purchased online to a brick and mortar store is increasingly important. If I buy a product from a store that has a physical presence, I want to be able to return the product to a physical store to avoid the hassle of shipping and the possibility of the product being lost in transit. Also, I’m able to process my return quicker by physically returning it to a store, which decreases the time I am without either the product or my money. A retailer that has a physical and online presence which refuses to accept returns on products bought online in their physical store loses convenience points. Also, if I am satisfied with the product but am experiencing a defect in that particular unit, I should be able to take it to a store for an exchange with no hassle involved. The vendor should also accept returns for the online store via mail if the customer wishes to do so. In addition, returns should be possible at any location, regardless of which individual store (or online) the product was purchased at.
Since the passage of the Sarbanes Oxley Act, companies are expected to maintain records for at least five years. Individual consumers, on the other hand, should not be forced to store a little piece of paper of their transaction indefinitely to prove their purchase. Even if the consumer loses their receipt, they should be able to return the product to the store, as the store should be able to verify that it was purchased in their store via the bar code. At the very least, an individual should be able to receive full store credit even without a receipt. Most receipts are very small and easy to lose and stores should be flexible to customers who have misplaced their receipt. Denial to do so shows a greater problem of the store not being able to recognize that humans do make mistakes and do lose receipts. An inability to be flexible about having the receipt may be a greater sign of inflexibility within the company and their products.
Usually, when companies refund a customer for a returned product, the return is provided via the same method the customer used to purchase the product. When a product is bought with cash, this reciprocal method proves convenient and easy for all parties involved; however, most stores have a limit on how much cash can be refunded. If a refund is over a certain amount the company issues the refund via a check. This method is acceptable as a store cannot be expected to have an infinite supply of cash on hand, however, when the limit is reached, stores should offer an option to receive the amount up to the limit in cash with the remaining value issued as a check. Also, companies should offer the ability to receive at least a portion of the refund in cash as returning the funds via check or crediting a credit card proves to be more time-consuming than the original purchase. A customer should not be delayed in receiving their refunds, especially when the return is the store or manufacturer’s fault.
When purchasing a product, I normally do not expect to return that product. I’m purchasing that product to fulfill a need and am buying that particular brand or model because I believe it will be the most effective and efficient product at fulfilling my need. In an ideal situation, the product will fulfill my need and I will keep the product and the vendor will keep my money. Although the return policy is a part of my decision process, many times I do not fully review the return policy until I actually need to make a return. I’ve also found in the past that vendors will be willing to accept a return that is outside their stated return policy if I make a wholehearted effort at convincing the vendor that they should accept a return of the product. For me, flexibility is the most important characteristic of a return policy; there are plenty of reasons a return should be accepted beyond the literal interpretation of a store’s stated return policy. Still, the company should provide enough time for the consumer to evaluate the product and should return the consumer to their original financial position. Companies that expect the consumer to bear the brunt of a defective product, or one that is not as advertised, discourage myself and most likely many other consumers from considering their product.