I think our return policy is tough and customer-unfriendly. However. we offer a great value with our product catalog, we have low shipping costs, we ship promptly, and replace broken items quickly. But we aren't a try-before-you-buy store, and our return policy makes it difficult to return items, by design.
You definitely have to pick your strategy, liberal or harsh, and go with it. There's a clear relationship between the liberalness of a return policy for a store and their prices. You can utterly not be the the price leader and have a liberal return policy.
But, at the same time, don't surprise the customer. Make it completely clear upfront your return policy. Don't bury it as a footnote or in your FAQs.
More times than not, I can get them to be happy. But even if they aren't, I can usually wear them down to the point where they give up. If all else fails and they just won't give up, I'll take it back.
Unfortunately, that's what we have to do too. Many customers are used to a brick-and-mortar "return it because I decided I like red better than blue" policy. If you respond to them right away with a prepaid label, with no return fee, and requiring no explanation, you're going to get a lot of returns. Probably a third of our RMA requests never get followed up on if we simply ask "what was wrong with the product?".
Our strategy is as follows:
1) Request photos of any defects, if applicable.
2) If the customer's defect seems questionable, we inform them it likely won't be returnable, and offer them a substantial discount on a replacement (they like this as often they'll get to keep their original item and get a new one).
3) We send them a PDF with our return policy, which outlines our policies in the harshest terms (item will be refused if packaging is damaged, etc.). Sending a PDF, rather than a simple plain text email, is key. It makes the customer aware this is your store policy and you're not just making it up on the fly.
In the end, returns are inevitable and you will have to accept some
. It's critical to keep the % of returns as low as possible though.