There is ample evidence to show that a simple and straightforward returns policy increases customer confidence and therefore purchases. We also know that if the process is delayed, difficult or there are obstructions, subscribers to your email marketing lists will tick the box to unsubscribe. Clearly, it is in your interests to devise a procedure that is clear and easy to follow.
A returns policy should include what you do when you receive the item and it is just as vital to have a clear and easily understood system for dealing with them. Your staff should have a detailed understanding of their role and have access to further information if required.
Items that are unused and pristine can be returned to stock. They might be in their original packaging or if not, then repackaged as original as possible.
However, you will receive items that are damaged or not functioning. Here decisions have to be made. If the item was damaged by the recipient then there needs to be a clear policy as to what refund/replacement is made.
If the item is returned inoperative, it must be discovered if it was an error by the customer, in which case the same process as above is required with a check on the instructions that went with the product, but if it’s a manufacturing fault you might consider a recall, an approach to the manufacturer for repair, replacement or all items you’ve purchased.
Some damaged or inoperative items might be suitable for resale as minor cosmetic damage or refurbished stock. If the problem is more substantial then you need to consider whether it can be used for spares or just disposed of.
Finally, cost your procedures and look for savings. Returns are a fact of online life but the costs can be mitigated with streamlined systems and reasonable expectations.
You policy should limit decisions being frequently passed up through your structure. This is unnecessary cost. If your policy is precise and clear it will limit deferred decisions. If you frequently or occasionally disagree with what your staff have decided then accept that it is probably because the instructions are not clear enough.