Monday, December 29, 2008

Dealing with Returns in the World of Handmade

Even if your product is well made, clearly photographed, and described in detail you may have customers who want to return the item for some reason or another.

It's not the most pleasant e-mail to receive ... the one asking how to return an item. For me it brings disappointment in myself and a bit of panic. Why don't they like the item? What's wrong with it? Is there enough in my Paypal account to issue a refund? (I don't keep my Paypal account stocked with money.) Did they read my policies before they made their purchase?

The one question that also sticks in my mind is - Do they understand the impact of returns on an artisan's business?

Returning items to a big store like Walmart is something people do all the time without a second thought (me included). Large stores factor returns into their bottom line and accepting returns is part of their good PR. People today are accustomed to buying on a whim with the thought in the back of their minds that they can always return it later. It's a cultural phenomenon that has a direct impact on artists and small businesses.

For artisans it can be a very challenging decision as to whether they can accept returns at all. When I first started my policy was - no returns unless there was an error in craftsmanship (i.e. the clasp broke or a bead broke or something like that) within the first 30 days. I have revised it several times and today my return policy is a little more liberal, but does include a "restocking" fee and a note about the difficulty of accepting returns. I also do not accept returns on custom orders.

This year I've had several returns and each one was personally painful. That is another big difference between big box stores and artisans. When you return something to an artisan it is personal because it feels like a direct rejection ... and we all know how fun rejection is. :)

I know in my mind that it isn't personal. But my heart doesn't always get that message. My mind, however, tries to learn something from each return. The latest returns were due to size.

My photos are always up close and larger than life in order to show details. I try to always state in my listings the measurements for each piece, but unfortunately people can get an unrealistic expectation in their mind from photos. I think that in the future I may add a disclaimer to all my listings in big bold letters *** ALL PHOTOS ARE ENLARGED TO SHOW DETAIL. NOT ACTUAL SIZE. *** That may help a bit.

Having a return policy that is spelled out very clearly is imperative for selling online. Customers need to feel confident that you know what your policies are and that if they are not satisified that they will be accommodated somehow - whether that means store credit, exchange, or money back.

I highly recommend thinking through some of these questions before you get your first return. Because if you're anything like me, when that first return comes you'll be a little more than flustered.
  • Do you have a policy written down for customers to read?
  • Have you thought about what it means to have someone ask to return something? What will the logistics be?
  • Will you issue a refund via Paypal, check, money order, store credit, or... ?
  • Will you have a restocking fee?
  • Will you refund the shipping fees?
  • Will you pay for return shipping?
  • Can you resell the item?
If you need help deciding on your return policy, I highly recommend joining The Switchboard Forums and doing some research. You're also welcome to use my return policy or use it as a template to create your own. It's partly mine and partly taken from other artists' (with their permission) policies.

Has anyone ever asked you if they could return something? How did you deal with it? And do you have any recommendations for avoiding returns in the future?


pamibe said...

I don't return handmade artisan items. Ever. Like you said, the difference between artisan and big box is vast.

Artisan return policies are not usually liberal in nature... and I can understand that.

CastoCreations said...

Thanks Pam! I'm glad to have your opinion on the matter.

I wouldn't say that you should never return artisan items though. If the product is made wrong or broken then it is a fact of business that the artisan needs to correct it.

I just don't like when people return things to artisans because they change their minds. That is what hurts. =)

SpeakDog said...

My return policy just says to contact me and we can work something out. I think it keeps people from just "changing their minds", but leaves the door open if they have an actual problem (such as misleading photo, poor materials, etc...).

Luckily, I haven't had any problems so far. Of course, I haven't had a ton of sales, so I guess my time is coming! :)

Roxy said...

I bought a pair of earrings from your store earlier this year and they are one of my favorites.

It's hard not to take it personally, but try to focus on the bright side where customers like myself KEPT your jewelry.

Happy New Year! May you have many more sales that stay with the buyer.

CastoCreations said...

Ah, thank you Roxy! :) I really appreciate that.

lol Speakdog...I didn't have a return for a long time when I first started. Things happen. =) But hopefully no one just changes their mind.