Great business become great by examining the methods of other great businesses. That’s not to say you become a complete copycat, but you implement pieces of what you learn in the operations of your own business.

Brian became intrigued by Internet retailer Zappos when boxes of shoes began showing up at the I.D. Images office, ordered by female staff members who had previously vowed to never order clothes or shoes online.

Brian wanted to know why. What he found out is detailed in Looking Out My Window No. 3, “Zappos Just Gets It.”

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I decided to try it for myself and ordered shoes from Zappos. They arrived, with a return label in the package. Naturally, I’m going to love that because I sell labels, but that takes some guts. It’s essentially saying, “We are anticipating that you might not like this product, so here is a readymade way to reject our business.”

Speaking of which, I didn’t like the shoes, so I got to test Zappos’ no-hassle return policy right off the bat. Zappos’ commercials didn’t lie. It was painless. Zappos gave me the option of a credit to my credit card or a Zappos credit with upgraded shipping as a reward.

Talk about genius. This company took the opportunity created by a merchandise return and used it to create more customer loyalty. I absolutely loved the thinking. Every business guru talks about turning problems into opportunities, but Zappos actually does it. It reduces credit card fees, it got to keep the cash, and it makes customers happy by giving them something. I would wager that Zappos’ return policy saves the company a lot of money. It also gives customers confidence to order from the company. Those customers will trust Zappos and might even pay extra to order from the company because of its high customer service standards.

How do I apply those lessons to I.D. Images? We ship a heavy product. Oftentimes, freight costs more than the profit we make on the item. If we ship the wrong product (and it does happen), are we better off bringing it back or telling the customer to keep it and dispose of it?

I looked into how we handled our returns. We had cumbersome rules for customers. First, customers had to call and get a remittance advice. When they get the RA, they had to ship the product back. When it gets back to us, we inspect it, and then issue the customer a credit.

The accountants require us to have a paper trail, which costs a lot of time and money. I was inspired by Zappos’ approach and challenged our team to offer our customers a better way.

“Can’t we do what Zappos does to issue a credit? Would it make our customers happy? Could it save us money?” By answering those questions, we have done a lot to streamline our processes.