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  1. #1
    Affiliate Manager
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    Affiliate Friendly Return Policy?
    We're putting the finishing touches on our affiliate program, and the length of our return policy has come up a few times. Currently we have it set at 30 days, which is the standard for our industry. It has been suggested that the length should be shortened.

    From a customer standpoint, I'm not sure that's such a great idea. How do affiliates normally feel about this? We don't have very many returns, but I'm trying to make sure that I have everything covered before we launch.

  2. #2
    Moderator BurgerBoy's Avatar
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    Most have a 30 return.

    Most sales are not locked until 30 days at the networks. That is to allow a 30 day return.

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  3. #3
    ShareASale President/CEO and ABW Veteran Brian - ShareASale's Avatar
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    My personal opinion is that a return should not be voided as a commission.

    I base this on the fact that the Affiliate has no control over the customer experience from the point of purchase (i.e., it isn't their fault...) along with the fact that you could never recoup any other advertising cost due to a return.

    I.e., you could never ask a search engine for your PPC money back, you could never tell the TV station that you wanted some money back, etc... etc....

    Taking care of customers - and taking care of your affiliate partners.... should be two separate things.
    Thanks,

    Brian Littleton
    President/CEO - ShareASale.com, Inc.

  4. #4
    Affiliate Manager Matt McWilliams's Avatar
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    Brian stole the words right from me. Wow!

    As for your actual return policy from a customer perspective, I would indeed base that on the industry standard and maybe make it a bit longer for a competitive advantage.

    Let's say that the industry norm is 30 days and a 3% return rate.

    If you extend yours to 60-90 days, it will help you make more sales and your return rate might rise from 3% to 3.2% which would be well worth it.

    But don't reverse affiliate payouts. Just keep an eye an individual affiliates who have a high rate of returns and handle those on an affiliate-by-affiliate basis.

    I hope that helps. Good luck with the program!
    Matt McWilliams
    Call Me At: (317) 825-8826 | Follow Me On Twitter: @MattMcWilliams2 | Connect With Me On LinkedIn

  5. #5
    Influencer Marketing GravityFed's Avatar
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    Yep agree with Brian and Matt. I try and be sure merchants consider two things in regards to returns or adjustments:

    1- If the Affiliate sent a paying customer, they've done their job. It's likely any full or partial return is a result of something the merchant did (out of stock, etc.) and not something the Affiliate did.

    2- Even if a customer returns a full or partial order, chances are good the merchant now has an opt-in email to market to, or better yet a new long term customer. Paying out a commission on a return is a small price to pay for a new customer.

    Affiliates often don't get the credit they deserve for bringing new customers. So if you're return rate is low as it is, you could just choose only to reverse commission on fraud orders. Then be sure to make some noise about that when you post info, or send out emails about your program terms

    Gary M

  6. #6
    Beachy Bill's Avatar
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    We, Jill and I, concur with what Brian stated. Those are my feelings exactly. As a "new" merchant we would like to follow that example to help make us a little bit more of "A Different Kind of Checks Merchant."

    We will, of course, keep in mind the caveats mentioned by Matt and Gary about fraudulent orders and/or affs with unusually high return rates.
    Bill / Marketing Blog @ 12PM - Current project: Resurrecting my "baby" at South Baltimore..
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  7. #7
    Affiliate Manager BlogBonnieBlog's Avatar
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    Byagi - you don't mention what you are actually selling that may have to be returned. You've gotten some excellent advise already but back to your original concern on people wanting to shorten the time period even more, some things to think about -- if it is a physical product, would you be basing the return date from the sell date or the ship date or the received date? If you are in california and you have to ship your product to say, Maine, then you already have to lop off 5 BUSINESS days from that 30 just for the customer to even receive the product to know if they like it or not. That doesn't take in the possible 1-3 days in house for getting your order filled and out. Is there enough time for the consumer to use the product and interact with it. Then depending on your customer service, what do they have to do to be able to return the product? 24 hour hotline to help them? 9-5? write a letter? Does the product have to be back within your hands within the 30 days? (another 5 days back for shipping?) etc.

    From a shoppers point of view and an affiliates point of view, something like 15 days tells me that you have no faith in your product and the financial side of my brain is thinking that you as a company are making it 15 days because you have figured out that most people use your product and don't contact you until day 20 or so to express concerns and you save money by making the refund date just a hair on the early side seemingly saving the company money. If it is a toy or something, I'd also be thinking that I should expect it to break about day 21.

    Like Matt pointed out, going longer may raise your return by a fraction but are those customers returning something going to turn around and maybe buy something else from you because even though they returned their first purchase, the experience was so pleasant, they'll be back.

    My SIL with very large and difficult to fit feet, took a total leap of faith and ordered a pair of shoes from Zappos. They didn't fit and she returned them, along with the next 10 pairs of shoes she got from them. The 12th pair was the magic fit and she turned around and order something like 5 pairs of the same shoe because she'd finally found a pair. She tells everyone to shop there (she's an offline girl so you cant' track her impact) and the first thing out of her mouth was how many pairs she returned and then how pleasant the no-hassle experience was and how she was treated. Returns can be an opportunity to shine .

    (wow... that got kinda long. sorry!)

  8. #8
    Super Dawg Member Phil Kaufman aka AffiliateHound's Avatar
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    Unfortunately, this is much more the exception than the rule. With the vast majority of merchants, a return means a reversed commission, like the one I received a couple of hours ago.

    This thread should be required reading for all affiliate managers.
    Since June 10, 2012 a vegan aarf but still writing the Hound Dawg Sports Blog
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  9. #9
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MattMcWilliams
    Let's say that the industry norm is 30 days and a 3% return rate.

    If you extend yours to 60-90 days, it will help you make more sales and your return rate might rise from 3% to 3.2% which would be well worth it.
    As counterintuitive as it might sound, studies have shown that an increase in return days actually decreases the return rate. Apparently, the longer you give people to think about it, the less likely they are to actually return it.
    Michael Coley
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  10. #10
    ABW Ambassador JoyUnltd's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BlogBonnieBlog
    My SIL with very large and difficult to fit feet, took a total leap of faith and ordered a pair of shoes from Zappos. They didn't fit and she returned them, along with the next 10 pairs of shoes she got from them. The 12th pair was the magic fit and she turned around and order something like 5 pairs of the same shoe because she'd finally found a pair.
    This is an example of an "exchange" more than a "return," which is something not differentiated in online biz but is in the B&M world. Rings & bracelets are items also frequently returned for an exchange because of size issues rather than permanently returning a product.

    What about the situation where several items are ordered and only one item returned? The aff loses the entire commission there also.
    Renée
    Pay no attention to that woman behind the curtain. -Wizardress of Oz

  11. #11
    Analytics Dude Kevin's Avatar
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    What about the situation where several items are ordered and only one item returned? The aff loses the entire commission there also.
    That's bad business. In truth, I don't have an issue with CERTAIN retailers in high return rate verticals reversing precise commissions for items returned. Bonnie mentioned Zappos, and that's a great example. Wasn't their return rate nearly 50% while they had their free return policy? We can't expect them to pay commissions on all of those. Just the ones that were kept.

    But, for normal merchants with a 1 to 3% return rate, I don't see the point in charging back. Definitely not the affiliates problem, and as such, they shouldn't be punished.
    Kevin Webster
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  12. #12
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    One big exception to that is for loyalty sites. Many of those get targeted for fraud. A user will order tons of stuff near the end of the month, wait to get their cash back, then return everything. The "good" loyalty sites actually WANT to see the reversals so they can identify the fraudsters and take action. Left unchecked, their return rates would continue to grow and the merchants wouldn't want to work with them.

    If you see excessive returns from any specific affiliate, you should definitely (at the minimum) research it and contact them (and if the situation merits, reverse those commissions).
    Michael Coley
    Amazing-Bargains.com
     Affiliate Tips | Merchant Best Practices | Affiliate Friendly? | Couponing | CPA Networks? | ABW Tips | Activating Affiliates
    "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." Nelson Mandela

  13. #13
    Affiliate Manager
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    Thanks so much for all the replies, everyone. I didn't expect to get so much great feedback so quickly.

    We're probably going to stay with 30 days, since that's what we're set at right now. It would be interesting to test increasing the policy to 60 days, and we might try that down the road. We sell health and beauty products, so there are some additional things we need to think about when it comes to returns, but I can see the potential benefit from increasing the length by 30 days.

    As far as affiliates go, what you're saying makes sense. If the affiliates are sending us through customers, they're doing what we've asked them to do. I think we'll take it on a case by case basis. If I'm doing my job as an affiliate manager, I don't see this as a major issue.

    Thanks again for all the information. It has certainly helped us put together a solid program that we think will work well for everyone involved.

  14. #14
    Affiliate Manager Matt McWilliams's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelColey
    As counterintuitive as it might sound, studies have shown that an increase in return days actually decreases the return rate. Apparently, the longer you give people to think about it, the less likely they are to actually return it.
    Wow Michael, I never knew that. It does make total sense though.

    Let's take our courses for example. They get Learn & Master Guitar this January 11 in a rush, thinking "I am finally going to learn Guitar (for example)"

    Then life gets in the way and suddenly it's early February and they haven't started yet. If we have a 30 day return policy, then they will return it. We lose money and they lose out on a wonderful experience.

    A month later they are kicking themselves but give up anyway.

    If we give them another month or two, then the kids are away for a weekend and they have time...and they do lesson one and they are hooked. No return!

    I think we are going to test a longer return period.

    Thanks Michael. Great stuff!
    Matt McWilliams
    Call Me At: (317) 825-8826 | Follow Me On Twitter: @MattMcWilliams2 | Connect With Me On LinkedIn

  15. #15
    Affiliate Manager Matt McWilliams's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Byagi
    We're probably going to stay with 30 days, since that's what we're set at right now. It would be interesting to test increasing the policy to 60 days, and we might try that down the road.
    Byagi...yes test it. Test various return times actually, 30,60,90...even longer depending on the product.

    I will be interested to see what would happen if we had a 180 day return policy even
    Matt McWilliams
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  16. #16
    ShareASale President/CEO and ABW Veteran Brian - ShareASale's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelColey
    One big exception to that is for loyalty sites. Many of those get targeted for fraud. A user will order tons of stuff near the end of the month, wait to get their cash back, then return everything. The "good" loyalty sites actually WANT to see the reversals so they can identify the fraudsters and take action. Left unchecked, their return rates would continue to grow and the merchants wouldn't want to work with them.

    If you see excessive returns from any specific affiliate, you should definitely (at the minimum) research it and contact them (and if the situation merits, reverse those commissions).
    I've had this conversation - and I understand the point that loyalty sites make on this - but I still disagree overall.

    Fraud is a big problem and one that needs serious attention, but I don't think reversals is the key to solving it. There are patterns and other things to look for that can help a retailer at the point of the transaction.

    Regarding the loyalty affiliates... they may have fraudulent users in their bunch but that is their business responsibility to clear out ... and shouldn't be a reason that an Affiliate Manager considers a reversal vs. non-reversal policy. The ones that do it the best will be rewarded for it in the long run.

    There could be a middle ground here of notifying monthly on reversal or order cancellation trends that could help the loyalty site with their membership cleanup, etc...
    Thanks,

    Brian Littleton
    President/CEO - ShareASale.com, Inc.

  17. #17
    Online Marketing Consultant
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    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelColey
    One big exception to that is for loyalty sites. Many of those get targeted for fraud. A user will order tons of stuff near the end of the month, wait to get their cash back, then return everything. The "good" loyalty sites actually WANT to see the reversals so they can identify the fraudsters and take action. Left unchecked, their return rates would continue to grow and the merchants wouldn't want to work with them.

    If you see excessive returns from any specific affiliate, you should definitely (at the minimum) research it and contact them (and if the situation merits, reverse those commissions).
    Also, you have stolen credit cards and credit card fraud or fraud orders where the person and the company doesn't know for maybe 60 days in or until they get their credit card statement. If they got into even a reputable loyalty site this can be bad, especially with continuity offers on the CPA networks.

    I don't agree with reversing commissions, the Affiliate did their job, but I do think that they should keep track of which ones came from which affiliates then determine if it is worth the relationship with that Affiliate and they should pass it onto the Affiliate so the Affiliate can take action in their community.

    If it was stolen credit cards or fraud though, I definitely think the commissions should be reversed.
    Adam Riemer Marketing, LLC. Online Marketing Blog and Affiliate Management Company
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  18. #18
    Member BrettSaver's Avatar
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    longer return policies
    I think that what Matt said is totally true.

    I think there is also another aspect to it, where psychology and procrastination come into play. The longer people have to return something, the more prone many people are to put it off. If you have a 90 day return policy, people are more likely to say "I'll get to it tomorrow". Over time, they are also more likely to forget about it altogether.

    Take this, working as a phone relay operator, I drove an hour to work, and was always on time. People who lived 5-10 minutes away were constantly late. Living farther, I was much more careful about leaving on time, whereas people who lived close figured "I'll be fine, it's right around the corner". Plus they paid you an extra $1.50/hr if you were on-time all month.

    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelColey
    As counterintuitive as it might sound, studies have shown that an increase in return days actually decreases the return rate. Apparently, the longer you give people to think about it, the less likely they are to actually return it.

  19. #19
    Affiliate Manager
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    It sounds like loyalty program sites are something we will need to monitor more closely. Are there any specific tips for monitoring this, or info that I can give to the affiliate specifically that will help combat this specific problem?

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