Make or break decisions: Bacon-saving sales policies for your online store

Establishing and publishing your sales policies isn’t just something your lawyer wants you to do — it’s a key method of increasing your online revenues and decreasing the amount of stress and work for you and your employees. And creating these time, energy and bacon-saving policies doesn’t have to be a difficult or complicated process.

Why are sales policies so powerful? Because they help to reinforce the perception that you are a legitimate business who can be trusted with online purchase information. Your customers will have more confidence when they see your carefully laid out policies. They demonstrate that you are experienced, on the ball, and have thought of all the things that can go wrong in an online transaction and stand ready with a plan to fix those problems should they occur. Rare as issues are, online shoppers are worry-warts. Policies tell your customer that they don’t have to be afraid of buying from your site, as they’re legally binding documents that reassure them you won’t scam them out of their money. A telltale sign of a scam site is a lack of policies, so having them reaffirms that your site is legitimate.

As a bonus, making your policies easily accessible on your site will allow many customers to answer their own questions, reducing the number of phone calls and emails you and your employees have to field.

That’s the potential for higher revenues and lower costs right there, and we’re only halfway through the benefits!

It’s important not to wait for something to go wrong to establish your sales policies, because when the pressure is on, and you are potentially worried, upset or embarrassed, you are vastly less likely to make good decisions than when you are calmly thinking about problem-solving from a strategic remove. And if your good decisions on those most common problems are written down, your employees will be able to take faster and better action on their own, freeing you up for more big-picture work like dreaming up and introducing new product lines.

Finally, having published policies can help you in the event that something goes really wrong and a dispute arises. It may also be that not having written policies opens you up to legal problems all on its own: in some areas it’s required by law to have certain policies published. For example, it is common to be required to have a privacy policy, depending on the type of information your site collects.

Questions You Should Think About Answering

If you’re convinced that you need some sales policies but you aren’t sure where to start, never fear: Sales policies are really just about writing down the answers to some “What if?” questions, like “What if a customer’s order gets lost in the mail?”

Below are some questions that are commonly asked by customers and generally useful to keep ready, just in case! Work your way down the list and write your answers to each one. If items are irrelevant to your business, feel free to skip them. By the end, you’ll have a set of sales policies.

Of course, this is not a complete list of potential questions your sales policy could cover. Your industry might have more or different questions. Always feel free to update your sales policies when you discover a new situation that needs addressing or a question that needs answering.

You should always have a lawyer in your local area review your sales policies.

1. Return Policies

  • How do you handle returns?
  • Do you reimburse customers for shipping to them when they return an item?
  • Do you reimburse customers for shipping back to you when they return an item? Do you buy them a stamp yourself?
  • Is there a time period in which you will accept a return?
  • Is your policy different if the goods are damaged or used?
  • Is your policy different if you sent the wrong item or color?
  • Do you accept refunds if the customer is unsatisfied or has changed their mind?
  • What happens if the item is not shipped in the timeframe you estimated, arriving too late for the customer’s intended purpose? Do you allow returns then? Do you give partial reimbursements?
  • If you are selling a digitally downloaded product that cannot be “returned,” do you have some kind of satisfaction guarantee anyway?

Pros of lenient return policies: It makes a customer more likely to purchase a product from your store because they can return the item if it’s not to their liking, the right size or color etc. This helps mitigate worry about not being able to see, touch, smell, taste, or hear the item before they purchase it, like they could in a real store.

This greatly improves customer satisfaction and makes them more likely to return to you in the future and recommend you to friends and family. It establishes trust in your brand with positive long-term effects.

Cons of lenient return policies: It may increase staff hours spent on handling the administration of returns and can lead to an increase of shipping costs for your company.

Remember that if you find customers abusing your return policy, you’re free to change your policies at any time to stop this from happening again. The positive effects of being lenient usually far outweigh the bad, and the percentage of returns are generally low. The nicer your policy, the more easily you win over new and returning customers.

2. Missing Products

  • What do you do when a product goes missing in the mail? Will you refund them or send another?
  • How long must the customer wait before you are sure it’s lost?
  • Do you offer tracking options on packages? Will this increase shipping costs for the customer?
  • Do you offer insurance on packages? Will this increase shipping costs for the customer?

It’s beneficial to customer satisfaction to offer these options for free when their purchase is expensive, e.g. free tracking and insurance on purchases valued at $200 or above. The cost of tracking and insurance is likely to be a drop in the bucket compared to the item’s value, and is an excellent show of good will and customer service to help close these high-ticket sales.

3. Shipping Carriers

  • What shipping carriers do you use?
    • UPS
    • USPS
    • FedEx
    • Others
  • Are there pros and cons to each one?
  • Will you mandate that customers in certain areas use a specific carrier (such as extremely rural areas or international purchases)?
  • Are there additional costs for some types of shipping, e.g. international shipping?
  • Are there additional costs for unusual items, such as very large, very heavy, perishable or alive (like potted plants)?

Being crystal clear about the carriers you use and what you do for international shipping ensures customers know what to expect. You can offer a customer a discount on the shipping price if they make a large purchase, such as multiple items at once.

4. Shipping & Handling

  • What precautions do you take to protect your wares from damaging while shipping? Think of bubble wrap, packing ‘peanuts’ etc.
  • Do you offer gift wrapping or alternate packaging options?

You may want to explain this in your policies or in your frequently asked questions.

5. Delivery Period

  • How long does it typically take to ship items to the customer?
  • Is it different for different parts of the world?

Make this very clear in your policies or in your frequently asked questions to avoid issues with ‘missing items’ and refunds.

6. Protecting Customer Privacy

  • How do you protect the privacy of your users?

A privacy policy is an absolute must and should always be a document of its own. Here’s an article explaining the ins and outs of a privacy policy, along with a sample for you to use as a basis for editing.

7. Customer Service

  • How can you be contacted? Provide email addresses, phone numbers and mailing addresses wherever appropriate.
  • When do you answer emails?
  • How long should someone expect to wait to hear back from you?
  • Do you take calls?
  • At what time of the day do you accept calls?
  • What happens if one of your staff members is rude to a customer or doesn’t know the answer? How does the customer escalate?

It’s important customers are able to contact you before, during and after the purchase and delivery process. Having a “Frequently Asked Questions” page will reduce the need for customer service, but it’s important to have it available all the same and give customers multiple options.

8. Sales Tax

  • Do you charge customers what their local sales tax is?
  • Do you charge customers what your local sales tax is?
  • Do you not charge sales tax at all?

Being transparent with the way tax is handled in the pricing of your products will prevent a lot of confusion, disappointment and possibly anger from your customers.

9. Third Parties

  • Do any third parties guarantee or vouch for the safety of your site or your business practice?
  • Are any third parties, other than the shipping carriers, involved when a customer makes a purchase? For example, sometimes a business may need to custom order an item from another business.

Third parties can be crucial in establishing more credibility to your business. If you make use of another business’s services, you may wish to inform your customers of this as well. You may want to include this in your frequently asked questions too.

Writing Your Policies

Brainstorm answers to the above questions – and any others you need to answer – and organize them into a document in easy to follow sections. If you like, you can create a single, long sales policy document where you cover everything. Or you can opt to create a ‘question and answer’ style FAQ page.

Whichever method you choose, it’s important to create these documents in advance so you will not have to worry about what to do in a stressful situation. They are a defining factor in gaining your customers’ trust and convincing them to spend their money on your products. If you aren’t sure whether your policies will work out for you or not, remember that you can always change them later when you have a better understanding of your customers and their wants and needs.

If your customers feel you don’t know what you’re doing, or you don’t provide them with the information they seek, they’re likely to take their money elsewhere. Policies can make a huge difference!