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Have yourself a very merry January

Tuesday, January 13, 2004 - 01:00

The turkey carcass has been picked clean for some time…so why do you still have your Christmas lights and garland in your store windows?

You may want to lose the decorations, but don’t lose the holiday spirit. Why? Because it will help you handle the onslaught of returned merchandise that will inevitably flow back to you. But rather than think of returns as a hit on your bottom line, think of them as opportunities to sell something else. The people returning products may have never shopped at your store which means you can expand your customer base. Perhaps they have no use for the product they’ve received as a gift. But guess what? If they drove to your store in a vehicle, you have thousands of products that they can use.

There is a tendency by many auto parts stores just to take back the product(s) and let their customers walk. Too often store owners are just focused in handling the returns rather than turning them into sales opportunities. No doubt that many of the people will be challenging because they just don’t care too much about vehicle maintenance until their vehicle breaks down, but just as many will be receptive to some suggestions that make sense. (You do have batteries, battery chargers, jumper cables, tire chains, emergency roadside kits, etc. on display, don’t you?)

Although you need to try to turn returns into sales opportunities by suggesting useful winter products, don’t be overbearing or give customers a hard time. Rather, handle return transactions courteously and quickly so that customers can see that your store is easy to deal with. In other words, if you can’t make a sale now, lay the groundwork so that you can make one later.

One of the best methods to handle returns is to have your return policy clearly posted in various places in your store. Moreover, make sure your counterpeople are clear on your return policy and give them the authority to handle each return. Nothing is more frustrating to a customer than having to negotiate to talk to the manager or owner.

Having said this, it is imperative to closely inspect the product(s) being returned. Has the box or package been opened? If so, has the product been compromised in any way? Will you be able to repackage it so that it can be resold? Clearly, some tough judgement calls have to be made with returns. You don’t want to knowingly accept products that have been compromised, but when in doubt you should side with the customer. Most customers are honest and just want to be treated fairly.

Retail business, in general, as well as the aftermarket, slows down in January, which means you should be more aggressive than ever in your marketing. Now is the time to run some ads, either in the newspaper or on television or radio. In your advertising focus on the hardships of winter: “Don’t get stuck in the middle of nowhere because you decided to try to get one more winter out of your battery.” “Is it worth the risk of not being able to see clearly? Replace your regular windshield wiper blades with winter blades that are specifically designed to keep your windshield clear no matter how bad the weather gets.” “All-season tires work well in snow, but snow tires are better.” “We have emergency roadside kits that may be the best insurance policy you will ever buy.”

One more thing: make sure your shelves are well stocked and fronted. Too often after a holiday, stores look depleted, which is not conducive to sales. If you have to, bring some additional things from the backroom so that your store has a “full” appearance. And don’t forget to take down the Christmas decorations!

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