December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

Looking for hard-to-find return policies

Internet retailers are pulling out all the stops to make it easy to shop over the Web. Yet many are making it hard for customers to learn about-let alone find-their return policies. But with consumer groups and shoppers putting the heat on Web merchants to improve their customer service performance, industry analysts are telling retailers that now is a good time to rethink where they’ve located return policy information on their sites.

Such policies are fairly easy to find on the JCPenney and Kmart Web stores. But Target doesn’t post any return information on its Web store. And it can take multiple clicks and a site search to locate the return policy at Sears Online. Customers also have to click several times and look on the help page of the Wal-Mart and Nordstrom’s stores to learn how to return merchandise.

Minneapolis-based Target won’t discuss e-commerce publicly, but Wal-Mart, Nordstrom and Sears insist that their return policies are clearly posted and easy to find. “There is only so much available space,” says a spokeswoman for Seattle-based Nordstrom. “If customers start asking, we could move the return policy up the page.”

“We haven’t been getting complaints and at the bottom of every page we tell customers that if they aren’t satisfied we’ll refund their money,” says a spokeswoman for Sears, Roebuck & Co. in Hoffman Estates, Ill. “Where the return policy is located on the Web site is a design function. On the first page the biggest question people have is, What merchandise can I find?”

But some analysts believe it’s in merchants’ interests to feature return policies prominently on their Internet storefront-or provide a front-page link that takes consumers to the return information. “An easy-to-find return policy will make shoppers feel safer shopping that site because it demonstrates that the merchant is legitimate,” says Kathy Sharpe, founder partner, Sharpe Partners, a New York Internet marketing firm. “To many retailers, having an easy-to-find return policy isn’t a big priority. They’re still trying to learn the business.”

Web merchants risk losing customers if they don’t deal quickly-and effectively-with customer complaints about returning merchandise. And that includes having a clearly posted return policy.

By contrast to their traditional peers, Web-only merchants clearly post their return policies in an easy-to-find location. Both CDnow and Amazon.com display help buttons that take shoppers to return information
in two clicks. That’s a feature retailing consultants believe all Web merchants should adopt. “The return policy should be posted on the first page or consumers should be able to find it easily on the order information page,” says Richard Berkman of BetaSix Inc., a Charlestown, Mass., Internet consulting company. “This gets into providing good customer service and that’s becoming a big deal with people shopping the Internet.”

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