Seen & Heard: Best Return Policy?

Outdoor apparel and gear retailer L.L. Bean is famous for its no-questions-asked return policy. But its annual sales easily top $1 billion—and its 50-some stores aren’t concerned about restocking items or losing hard-earned cash from credit-card merchant fees. Still, accepting returns can be a boon to small retailers—demonstrating to shoppers that service is your store’s priority and helping you retain customers. Here, four storeowners describe how their policies work.

Jon DeMott

DanceWear Corner; Orlando, FL

In-store return policy: Items in original condition can be returned for a full refund—on credit or debit cards—within 15 days. (No cash refunds.) Store credit for returns between 16 and 30 days. Tights and undergarments are nonreturnable, but exceptions are made if packaging is unopened.

Getting the word out: On store receipts, plus sales associates inform customers at checkout.

“We see our policy as worry-free shopping: A mom might come in during the day without her dancer, and she can purchase two leotards knowing she can return one if her daughter doesn’t like it. And that’s the key: She has to come back into the store, giving us another chance to engage with her. Staff are trained to get to the bottom of why an item is being returned. We convert roughly 50 to 60 percent of intended refunds to exchanges—it’s a real win if a customer wanting a refund for a $39 leotard ends up exchanging it for a $44 garment. Because of credit-card fees, it can seem painful if a teacher returns 22 shirts purchased for her team. But it does balance out. Over time, we’ve seen incremental increases in our sales, and our true-refunds percentage has maintained throughout.”

Natasha Anderson

Dance Closet Redding; Redding, CA

Return policy: Full refunds on items returned within 30 days of purchase—in unused condition with all tags and original packaging. No returns after 30 days. 

Getting the word out: A sign by the register.

“Offering refunds shows customers you’re confident in your product. It’s a guarantee. There’s also security for the consumer. People hesitate to make purchases if it’s a final sale. A customer buying a gift for a new dancer feels comfortable if they can make a return—when there’s a sizing issue or if the dancer simply doesn’t like it. Still, there has to be a balance—which is why I’ve put a time limit on returns. And if I can’t resell it due to its condition, it doesn’t qualify for a return. Exchanges for different sizes or colors are much more frequent than true returns.”

Kelli Yandolino

En Arabesque Dancewear; Perkasie, Doylestown and Feasterville, PA

Return policy: All three stores accept returns for store credit within 15 days of purchase. Items must be unworn, unwashed, with all original tags and packaging. No returns on items exposed to cigarette smoke, makeup, deodorant or pet hair. Pointe shoes, demi-pointe shoes and ballet slippers may not be returned if ribbons or elastic are sewn. Sale or clearance items are final sale.

Getting the word out: Posted on signs at the front of the stores and on e-mailed receipts.

“My goal is to make customers’ shopping experience as easy as it can be. When our third location opened, we updated our POS to a cloud-based system that can pull up customer accounts and sales from all locations. So customers can return something to any location. The system also keeps track of customers’ store credits, though those we have on file are for very low amounts. I attribute that to my team. Staff are well-trained to help customers get exactly what they need. So the few returns resulting in store credit are often due to parents purchasing the wrong items. Listening to customers and getting to know them has eliminated a lot of returns.”

Alex and Jade Cocuzza

The Dance Bag; Paramus, NJ

Return policy: Items in new, unused condition can be returned within two weeks for store credit or exchanged. Tights, jewelry and custom-made clothing cannot be returned.

Getting the word out: On signs in the store, receipts and the store’s website. Sales associates remind customers buying tights that they are nonreturnable, double-checking that they have the correct size according to the package’s height and weight charts.

“Having a clear return policy is great for consumers, but it also protects our business. Dancewear styles quickly go out of fashion, and so much of our merchandise is seasonal. When we offer a limited run of an item, if someone returns it months later, we could be stuck, unable to sell it or order more. Offering store credit helps bring customers back into the store. But it’s important to be flexible, so we make exceptions. We’re not trying to make it difficult for our customers—the last thing we want is someone leaving our store upset. Brick-and-mortars have to give shoppers the best customer-service experience possible.”

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