An inevitable side effect of retail sales is product returns. Of course, a few here and there is normal, but if you are experiencing anything greater than a 5 to 7% return rate, then it's time to assess your game plan at your salon, spa or med spa to get those numbers where they should be.

Follow my expert advice below to handle and prevent excessive retail returns.

1. What is your return policy?

Does your spa have a written product return policy available in black and white for clients to read on your website, intake forms or posted in your lobby?

It's important to be very transparent about your procedures for handling returns and exchanges at your business. Because of the delicate nature of skincare and cosmetic products in terms of expirations dates, hygiene, and contamination, it's crucial to be very clear with clients about which types of purchases qualify for an exchange and a return (opened versus unopened, etc.) and which do not.

It's also important to set a time limit (seven days, 14 days, 30 days) so you don't have clients coming back seven months later looking to process a return. Without solid policies in place, you are not only affecting your estheticians’ and technicians’ income via commission deductions, you are also jeopardizing your bottom line.

2. Point of sale inconsistencies.

One major reason that products come back to the spa is the client confusion that happens when they make their purchase. Be aware of when and where clients are getting product recommendations at your spa.

To explain, a client may receive information about skin care products during their initial consult, then move to their treatment with an esthetician and receive more information there. Lastly, clients may also hear a skin care product pitch from members of management or front desk staff.

Is this happening at your spa? As much as it's great to offer retail products, it's important that the client is not receiving conflicting advice.

Not only can this put undue sales pressure on your clients, it also sets you up for returned products when you create confusion. In my professional experience, it's best for consultants to speak generally about retail offerings and defer to whomever will be physically touching the client's skin for the bulk of the retail recommendations.

Front desk staff should help close the sale but should not offer substantial suggestions because they did not physically touch and analyze the client's skin and may also not be aware of contraindications, allergies and pieces of information that was shared in the privacy of the treatment room.

3. Are you positioning yourself as an expert?

In this day and age, clients have a lot of skin care information coming at them from just about every medium. Television, internet ads, social media feeds, influencers on YouTube, various retail establishments and, of course, from your spa. If you and/your staff do not position yourselves as the experts that you are, then you will lose sales to the competition.

In essence, clients will either not buy products from you or will return your products because they decide to buy them elsewhere. Don't let this happen to you.

Be sure that you let your clients know that you are a spa staffed with licensed experts with the experience, expertise and product training to best make product recommendations for them. Not to mention, in the spa space, clients’ skin is being professionally analyzed, cleansed, exfoliated and treated to understand baseline and potential. No beauty counter, internet influencer or social media feed can compete with that kind of care, so be sure you relay that authority to your clients.

4. The proof is in the pudding.

One of the best ways to both help clients gain confidence and promote your retail offerings is to conduct a digital skin analysis and/or show them before and after photos of their skin. Clients need to be acutely aware of their skin care diagnoses and their treatment plan, which will include services and products.

A professional course of treatments is what separates the pros from the imposters and will ensure your clients’ loyalty and continued business. Let them know exactly how long you think it will take for them to see real results. If you give them visuals and manage their expectations, you can expect far less product returns.

Oftentimes, clients return products because they are under the false impression that they should see dramatic results in a very short period of time. It's your job as the skin care professional to educate them on the proper time frame for results so they don't give up and bring back their retail purchases.

5. Are you tracking retail purchases in and out of the spa?

Do you have software that tracks your clients retail purchases? Are you also keeping track of what they've been sampled on and their return habits? Be sure that you take these metrics seriously. It's important to remind clients when they are running low to repurchase their skin care from you.

It's also crucial to counsel clients when they have concerns with products and come in for a return. Moreover, you must also know about purchases that they are making outside of your spa as well. Ask them about their skin care routine as a whole to get an idea of what their wants and needs are. If you become your clients' No. 1 reliable source for skin care retail purchases, then you will drastically decrease product returns at your spa.

6. Are you having vendor quality concerns?

Are you faced with product returns because of a consistent product concern or packaging malfunction? In this case, you need to know what your vendors will do for you to take care of these issues. It's certainly not your fault, as the retailer, to take care of product quality control issues or lemons.

Be sure that the vendors you work with have clear return policies so you can RTV products (i.e., return to vendor) without hassle or extra cost to you.

Follow my expert spa industry advice so you can not only boost retail sales but mitigate product returns. Be sure to set a clear return policy, give consistent skin care recommendations, position yourself as an expert, manage outcomes, track retail habits and maintain good working relationships with your vendors. With these tips in mind, you can enjoy a healthy retail bottom line.