January 10, 2000
Coming Around Again
Everyone agrees: On-line jewelry returns are a pain
The problem of returned goods purchased over the Internet is a potential nightmare for jewelers. The issues include lost or damaged merchandise; he said/you said arguments with customers; and the potential for damaging word-of-mouth if anything goes wrong.
Non-jewelry e-tailers have trained consumers to expect fairly easy return policies. J. Crew, for example, will take back a sweater up to three years after it was purchased, while Amazon.com will take back any book regardless of its condition even if you ripped out the pages because you thought the book was so bad, says Jeff Bezos, founder/CEO.
Of course, they're not dealing with merchandise worth thousands of dollars, though it's a distinction that probably wont win much sympathy among customers.
Overall, $5 worth of merchandise is returned for every $100 worth of goods an e-commerce company ships, according to a recent study by Boston Consulting and Shop.org, an Internet retailing trade group. This means that, if your company is like Blue Nile which reported $10 million in sales this past holiday season you can expect roughly $500,000 worth of jewelry to be tossed back on your doorstep.
So how demanding can a dot.com jeweler afford to be in a competitive environment in which competitors is just a click away? Here's how some major on-line jewelers handle the issue.
Mondera.com offers a full refund for up to 30 days, less shipping, insurance and handling charges. Customers must fill out a return form, as well as call for a confirmation code that must be printed on the package. (Packages without the code cannot be processed, says Mondera.com.) Customers are cautioned to use the U.S. Postal Service, to insure the item for the amount of the invoice, to keep the receipt and to use a special address that doesn't mention Mondera, jewelry, diamonds or any other words that might attract thieves. Shipping UPS or Federal Express is discouraged.
All items must carry the original tag and be unused, says Mondera.com; damage is the customers responsibility. With watches, all product literature must be returned and diamonds must be accompanied by their gemological certificates. No refunds are made until the company has verified that its terms have been met.
Somewhat more liberal, Tiffany & Co.'s on-line policy merely requires that items be returned within 30 days in saleable condition with a receipt. Purchasers are entitled to refunds; gift recipients are entitled to a credit. Returns may also be taken to a Tiffany store. Tiffany includes return instructions with each package and customers may call customer service on a toll-free line with questions.
Blue Nile requires that customers call for an authorization code and write it on the return package. Items must in their original packaging (including gift boxes), insured and sent through the USPS. Blue Nile also requires customers to use a return shipping label that is included in with the original shipment. Blue Nile refuses to accept returns from outside the U.S. and deducts shipping and handling fees from refunds.
Zales' on-line policy allows customers to return items within 30 days for a refund, or 90 days for an exchange. They have the option to make returns at a Zales store or to ship the item. (Customers who ship are advised to use Federal Express or UPS to make tracking easier.) Shipping and handling charges are the customers responsibility unless the item arrived damaged.
Internet business analyst Daniel Kane of Simba Information says many customers think dealing with the mail makes it difficult to return goods in perfect condition within a tight time window.
In a competitive environment, that may eventually mean that jewelers will be forced to re-evaluate existing policies.
- by Mark E. Dixon