August 11, 2011, 11:45 AM

E-retailers plan for flexible return windows this holiday

ScotteVest.com, for example, will allow returns for 60 days, instead of 30.

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Some e-retailers that maintain a 30-day return window for purchases say they plan on lengthening that timeframe when it comes to purchases made during November and December to help make sure holiday recipients get the gift that was on their wish list.

ScotteVest.com, No. 651 in the Second 500 Guide which sells apparel designed for travelers, will double its returns window from 30 days to 60 days for purchases made from Nov. 1 through Christmas, though owner Scott Jordan says the e-retailer is flexible beyond that on a case-by-case basis if the return is unworn and can be resold. Jordan says part of the reason his site can be flexible on returns is because, unlike many apparel retailers, his stock doesn’t change dramatically from season to season. “Our items have a shelf life of three or four years,” he says.

He says the company’s five full-time customer service reps are trained to treat customers who call in to inquire about a return or exchange the way they would like to be treated if they had to go through the process themselves. “We don’t limit the amount of time they spend with a customer, and we don’t measure performance on how quickly they get them off the phone,” Jordan says. In the case of a gift exchange, the reps will help the customer find the size and product that best suits her needs. On occasion they’ll even conduct calls using webcams and online telephone service Skype so they can visually walk customers through the measurement process.

At BackJoy.com, which sells a health product that helps to align a person’s posture when seated, owner Bing Howenstein says he also plans to extend his standard return window of 30 days for holiday gift purchases. He says sales of BackJoy, which are marketed and sold online and through televised infomercials, typically jump 10% to 15% during the holidays, and customer service agents are trained to first ask why a gift recipient wants to return the product. Howenstein says the problem often is that the gift recipient doesn’t understand how to use the item. “It’s not a cushion, it’s a hard piece of plastic and some people have a hard time conceptualizing that they could sit in it,” Howenstein says. “A lot aren’t opened or are barely touched.”

BackJoy customer service agents are trained to explain to customers how to use the product and then to suggest giving the gift to another family member or friend who may suffer from back pain. If the customer still wants to return the product, agents will initiate the return process. “We try to be as flexible as possible,” Howenstein says. “We’re a word-of-mouth business and the worst thing we could do is make someone mad or upset that’ll hurt us down the road.”

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