01/23/2014 01:06 pm ET Updated Mar 25, 2014

Retail Chatter #5

The Power of the Return

With the New Year upon us and an entirely new collection season ahead of us, according to a report on sales in the New York Times, retailers relied on discounted sales in December to get their revenue and looked to further markdowns to help move additional merchandise in order to make room for the new spring collection during the holiday season .

Although some brands typically view January as a slow month, with consumers drifting back from their holiday break or trying to hide from the polar vortex, people are still trying to settle back to reality or for some, their new reality. Strategically, most companies are trying to come out of the blocks with consumer outreach programs and trying to drum up sales by putting the pedal to the medal.

Knowing that there's been a slight shift of power in the hands of the consumer, those that have indulged during the holiday season, are now faced with still trying to return those items that were received as presents, even though it simply was the thought that counts, we won't be caught dead wearing that sweater or scarf that was so kindly considered.

To make matters even tougher, the item was purchased on final sale. It still pushes us to take a chance on those tight return policies. Well, I wondered how many luxury brands will stay firm on those store policies, or will they become more lenient in this ever changing world of retail.

Being in the luxury retail business for many years, I do know those rules all too well, but I also know that although the rules are made, often some can be slightly adjusted, it all comes down to the bottom line.

I've always told managers that a return can hold lots of value, so once you've assessed the situation, try everything in your power to make and keep the customer happy by honoring a return, if you can manage to do so, in turn you will gain not just a happy customer that will spread the word, but often they will end up shopping for seasons to come.

Yet, some brands today still don't seem to understand this simple formula, especially as the pie chart is getting smaller while consumers continue to explore more and more ways and new discoveries of retail. This has now given the most sought after word, "Exclusive" a whole different meaning.

Recently, I had a conversation with a client who happens to be a big shopper of luxury brands. She told me a story of her experience at one of her favorite stores when she tried to return an item that had been purchased that morning. The sales associate told her unfortunately she couldn't process a return simply because she had signed the receipt and left the store with the item. Although she was a good client of the store, the manager backed up the associates decision against the return all for the sake of having the pressure of making the sale. Sadly not only did the store end up losing one of their top clients, but lost the opportunity to gain her network of friends as potential customers as well.

If only the manager had simply been a bit more flexible in thinking "Big Picture," all would have been a great Return on Relationship.