Local brick-and-mortar stores should embrace refund policy
As China’s annual Double 11 shopping festival approaches, many brick-and-mortar stores in Shanghai’s Jing’an district are competing against online vendors by offering customers unconditional refunds within seven days.
It was reported that around 80 foreign and Chinese brands agreed to participate in the refund project organized by the commerce commission of Jing’an district. Consumers will be allowed to return or exchange any unwanted products at those brands’ physical stores in Jing’an district.
After visiting some shopping malls and stores in Jing’an, I found that most participating merchants had put eye-catching slogans at their cashier desks to remind consumers of the new policy.
While some netizens cheered for the new policy, others questioned if is it necessary to provide offline consumers with unconditional exchanges and returns, as individuals who shop in physical stores can see, touch and try on any product before their purchase.
My answer is definitely yes. Though consumers shopping at physical stores can test and try products directly, there are still possibilities for regrets.
Living in a fancy city like Shanghai, it is common for shoppers to purchase things on impulse rather than out of real need. Take myself for example. As a mild shopaholic working in downtown Shanghai, where we are surrounded by all of the world’s trendiest brands, I am constantly being lured into stores.
As a result, I tend to purchase clothes, shoes and cosmetics that I don’t necessarily need. For instance, I once bought four new lipsticks at a mall in Jing’an, which the next day I realized were a waste of money. But without any return policy, I could not get my money back.
In this regard, if physical stores will adopt liberal refund policies, it tends to give impulsive shoppers like me a reasonable period to reconsider whether our purchases were wise; if not, we can return the stuff and save our money.
Also, products people purchase in retail stores can also be the wrong size or of poor quality, which we won’t realize until we actually wear them. An unconditional refund policy therefore is a guarantee to consumers to help them avoid buying poor-quality stuff or clothes in the wrong sizes.
Apart from reducing consumer concern about buying unwanted products, seven-day unconditional returns and exchanges also bring tangible benefits to merchants, as it can raise a brand’s international image. Unconditional refund policies are quite common in many Western countries. When I studied in the UK in 2014, for the first time in my life I was able to return my purchased products without question.
In most clothing chains in the UK, such as Topshop, Next and Marks&Spencer, consumers enjoy a 30-day free return and exchange service. Every time I returned my unwanted purchases at a British store, the staff were very nice to me and would promptly give me my money back without hassle. They didn’t ask me questions and they didn’t act like I was troubling them. As a consumer, I felt trusted and respected.
But in China, the situation is completely opposite. If a customer wants to return anything, local shop assistants tend to act arrogant and impatient; they are also very likely to refuse your request.
I believe that if Chinese brands want to go global and attract foreign customers, it is important for them to adopt unconditional refund policies in their offline stores. It will make customers feel that they can trust the store and its products, and likewise make them feel that the store trusts and appreciates them.
It is true that such refund policies can cause inconvenience to, and even shrink the profits of, merchants, as some freeloaders might take advantage of this policy by wearing clothes for a few times without taking the tags off, then returning it before the deadline.
But as Chinese consumers become better educated and more civilized, I think such concerns will no longer be a big problem here. What local merchants should do in Shanghai’s highly-competitive market is focus on winning back customers into their brick-and-mortar stores.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.