While online retailers in South Africa offer great value and generally provide solid service, there is one area where they frequently fall short of traditional brick-and-mortar shops – handling returns and exchanges.
We recently placed an order with Raru, which included a 3.5mm audio splitter cable. The intended use of the cable was to connect a headset with separate headphone and microphone jacks to a device that has a combined 3.5mm port.
Smartphones, gaming consoles, and laptops have such integrated headset ports which only accept a single 3.5mm jack.
When the item arrived we discovered that the cable wasn’t a headset splitter, but purely an audio splitter. Audio splitter cables allow you to connect two sets of headphones to one port but do not support microphone input.
Upon contacting Raru to find out whether we could exchange the item, a customer support agent explained that when it comes to unwanted items, a 10% handling fee and the cost of the courier will be deducted from the amount you are credited.
On a R62 item, you would therefore only get R6.80 back.
After a brief back-and-forth with customer support, we explained that the product’s listing does not make it clear that the cable does not allow for microphone input and only supports audio output.
Raru provided full credit and recommended an alternative product that would do the job.
It said that we could keep the incorrectly ordered item, as it was not worth the cost of a courier to come and collect it.
Returns and exchanges in South African e-commerce
Raru is not the only online store in South Africa for which returns on cheaper items presents a challenge.
The following table summarises the returns policy on unwanted goods for five major online retailers in South Africa.
It should be noted that the table below only considers items that are unwanted or that didn’t do what the customer expected. Items that are defective or break within the manufacturer’s warranty are handled differently.
|Retailer||Handling / restocking fee||Courier fees||Link to policy|
|Takealot||Free||Free||Takealot Returns Policy|
|Raru||10% on unwanted/incorrectly ordered items||Deducted from credit||Raru returns policy|
|Wootware||25% on opened/unsealed products||Deducted from credit||Wootware returns policy|
|Loot||15% on opened/unsealed products||Deducted from credit||Loot returns policy|
|Evetech||20% on all returns||Deducted from credit||Evetech terms and conditions|
To return unwanted items, online stores require them to be in good working order and in the original packaging.
Each of the returns policies listed above also contains several exceptions. Returns on software, books, consumable items, personalised items, and flatpack furniture which has already been assembled are generally restricted.
Why retailers charge handling or restocking fees
Raru founder Neil Smith told MyBroadband that courier fees are the biggest cost when it comes to returns.
“It is easy enough if you bought something at a local store and took it back yourself if there is a problem. It becomes more costly when you need to collect something from a customer in Pretoria for example and have to ship the item back to Cape Town.”
If something needs to get repaired or replaced, then the retailer has to pay a courier again to send the item back to the customer.
“This is why when an item is below a certain threshold it is actually cheaper for us to either just order a replacement and send it to the customer without getting the damaged item back, or credit the customer, depending on the scenario,” Smith said.
“Every return needs to be evaluated on its own merits of course. We do have an overall returns policy but considered judgement needs to be exercised on a case by case basis.”
On the topic of restocking fees, Smith explained that a lot of the items they sell are special order import items with very niche appeal.
“If there is a cancellation late in the order process we may deduct a restocking fee, as we may not be able to sell the item to anyone else once we receive the stock.”
Opened items can’t be sold as new
Wootware founder Rory Magee said that, in general, an online retailer may charge a handling or restocking fee in instances where either:
- A product was opened, used and/or damaged by the customer. That is, the retailer could not sell the item again as a new product.
- In instances where a special order was done or specific tailoring of an order was done to meet a customer’s needs. This includes specialised equipment back-ordered, and labour done specifically for a customer.
Retailers would charge the fee to cover some of the costs of receiving an item back, inspecting, testing, and readying it for sale again as a used or open box item.
“Retailers can opt to absorb all costs relating to returns even when products are opened, though there may be an element of moral hazard that presents itself when there are no costs to be covered by the customer whatsoever for returns even return shipping,” Magee said.
“For lower-value items, it is more tricky, since the shipping costs are always going to be a higher percentage of the value of the item in question.”
Hope the above helps. For two, it does seem like dealing with a retail store that has an online presence would be the most feasible way of negating the courier fee aspect insofar as returns go.
Over 80% of people check the returns policy before buying online
A spokesperson for Loot said that they only charge a handling fee if an item can’t be put back in stock. Examples include DVDs, games, and electronics where the manufacturer’s seals have been broken.
The company said it also deals with returns requests on a case-by-case basis and makes exceptions.
“We do make exceptions for some customers wanting to exchange or take credit by not deducting any costs, as we know they still want to shop with us and we will likely make up the loss incurred with future orders that they will place,” the online retailer stated.
Loot said that its only guess as to why some online retailers might charge a handling or restocking fee on all items returned is to cover some of the cost of the labour and packaging that the company has incurred for an unwanted item.
Another possible reason is to deter customers from returning an unsuitable or unwanted item.
“However I believe this sort of policy causes a negative impact on sales. Over 80% of customers check the returns policy prior to ordering. If it isn’t simple and in the customer’s favour they will likely not buy.”