If purchases are what every marketer strives for, then returns are the marketer's best kept secret. If you've spent 3 months of marketing and sales activity, the return of a purchased product turns out to be quite costly.
Buyers always reevaluate their purchase decision after the money has exchanged hands. They may do it immediately, or they may do it at some point in the future. Regardless of when they reevaluate, the outcome of their evaluation impacts your business.
The buyer's evaluation criteria is quite simple:
Did the reality of the product meet my expectations
If their product experience doesn't match their expectations, bad things happen.
- Product return
- No repurchase
- Product complaints
If a product return stems from a product defect, you have a quality issue. Quickly replace the offending item with a working one and you can minimize the damage.
If the product return stems from discontentment with the way the product met expectations, you have either a communication problem or a relationship problem.
Shelf-ware is a hidden problem for marketers. Your product has been purchased, but it ends up not being used. Yes, the marketer gets the money, but nothing else is gained in the transaction. Not product loyalty. Not brand building.
Shelf-ware is the bottom waiting to fall out of your business. What appears to be healthy on the surface (sales) is masked by a slow death of disinterest.
Some products or services will need to be repurchased in the future. Clothes wear out. Machines break down. Subscriptions expire. An unsatisfying original product (or brand) experience, limits your ability to capture that repeat purchase. Say good-bye to high customer lifetime value.
Long lags between purchases can make uncovering the original purchase issues very difficult. Customer satisfaction studies are one way of staying on top of buyer satisfaction.
Now, more than ever, unhappy buyers have a multitude of forums to broadcast their complaints. Those complaints can influence greater numbers of prospects than ever before. This means that marketers have to take customer complaints seriously.
Marketers should always create mechanisms and encourage disgruntled customers to communicate their issues directly with the business. Marketers must monitor social media, rating web sites, etc. to intercept problems before they blossom into brand damaging rants. Be aggressive in fixing the problem both with the customer as well as with the issue's origination.
As you can see, a product return is the least of a marketer's problems.
Here are some ways to make a buyer's post-purchase evaluation work for you:
- Encourage the buyer to communicate directly to you their post-sale perception of the product. Incent it if you have to.
- Gather those positive buyer stories and use them.
- Don't make the buyer the bad guy when he/she gives you negative feedback. Treat your buyer like you would want to be treated -- with honor and respect.
- Don't hide the buyer's issues under the rug. Deal with them. Use them to make your product better.