How to Prevent Customer Chargebacks in a Retail Business


Consumer law protects customers when they make payments on a credit card. If a fraudster steals a customer’s credit card detail or a merchant refuses to give a refund, the customer can complain to their credit card company and have the money refunded. They don’t have to contact the merchant, which is great for them but not so great for you.

Chargebacks are a legal process and the customer has every right to request a chargeback, but too many chargebacks against a retailer are damaging. Merchant account providers take a dim view of businesses who suffer unusually high numbers of chargebacks. Banks levy fees for chargebacks and fines can soon accumulate. There is also the risk that the bank will freeze or terminate your merchant account, which will effectively leave your business dead in the water. If you are terminated, you won’t be able to apply for another merchant account for five years. At this point, it is hard to think of a way the business can carry on in its present form.

According to The Chargeback Company, all of this pain can be avoided if you take steps to limit the number of chargebacks against your business. It is impossible to prevent all chargebacks, as there will always be unscrupulous customers who use chargebacks to gain goods for free. There is also the issue of internet fraud, which is on the rise. However, by taking the following steps, your business can defend itself against unfair chargebacks.

Provide Excellent Customer Service

Unscrupulous customers won’t bother asking for a refund if they discover a relative has made an unauthorized transaction on their card, their wife discovers they have subscribed to the XXX channel on cable, or they suffer from ‘buyer’s remorse’ after blowing a huge wad of cash on a 3D TV.

These customers go straight over a retailer’s head and ask the cardholder for their money back. There isn’t a lot you can do in this instance, but for every other unhappy customer, your best bet is to offer superlative customer service and try to sort things out before they request a chargeback.

Chargebacks typically fall into three categories:

• The item is not received;
• The item is not as described; or
• The buyer did not authorize the transaction.

With the exception of the last one, you have an opportunity to put things right and make the customer happy by offering excellent customer service. Often, all it takes is a sympathetic customer service advisor offering to refund or replace the item.

Refunds are far quicker than chargebacks, so offering to refund should placate an angry customer. In the case of items not received, shopping goods via tracked delivery should minimize this issue, but don’t advertise unrealistic delivery schedules or market items you don’t have in stock.

Excellent customer service is the foundation of a retail business. Give customers plenty of options to contact you, including a landline telephone number (preferably low-cost or free) and web chat. Train your customer service team so they know how to handle difficult customers. Retailers can often prevent problems escalating to chargebacks by offering excellent customer service.

Be Clear about What the Customer Is Buying

Online retailers are not always transparent about what they sell. We have all read horror stories of teens buying gorgeous prom dresses from Chinese fashion stores, only to end up with a dress that bears no resemblance to the photo online.

One way to prevent chargebacks caused by a customer claiming the item was “not as described” is to make it quite clear what the customer is buying. Include as much relevant information in your product description as possible, so there is very little scope for misunderstandings.

For expensive items, it is worth asking the customer to sign a contract outlining what they are buying. If you can obtain a customer authorization in writing before the payment is made, the customer is unlikely to have a chargeback request accepted.

Be Vigilant on Fraud

Fraudulent transactions may be on the rise, but there is a lot you can do to prevent it affecting your business. Be vigilant and teach your employees how to spot possible fraudulent transactions before they are processed.

Discrepancies in customer details or security codes are a red flag and need further investigation before the transaction is authorized. Many online card transactions are processed remotely, so it is hard to verify whether the customer is actually the cardholder. However, mismatched details are an indication something is not right, so encourage your employees to check the customer is legitimate before they confirm a sale. Sometimes, a simple phone call to the account holder is all it takes to verify a transaction. It is likely that the cardholder will thank you for your vigilance and be more inclined to shop with you again.

Implement Secure Payment Systems

Online cyber fraudsters are always one step ahead, so you need to be on the ball. Your shopping cart and payment processing systems must be secure, or shopper’s data is at risk. If your merchant account provider does not host the card payment process, make sure your business is PCI DSS compliant. Payment solutions like PayPal take care of all this on your behalf, but larger retailers typically host their own payment systems. If this is the case in your business, network systems must be secure so that the cardholder is protected at all times.

Disputing Chargebacks

Chargebacks are costly, but you don’t have to accept them lying down. Retailers can argue their case if they feel a chargeback is unfair. If you have maintained accurate records and you think you can prove the chargeback is unwarranted, it is worth fighting back.

There are companies that will take care of the chargeback dispute process on your behalf, but for smaller claims, it may be worth handling your own case. However, fighting a claim is going to cost you time and resources, so know when to walk away.

With the right systems and processes in place, the majority of chargebacks can be avoided, so don’t let chargebacks ruin your business.


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Founded in 1994 by the late Pamela Hulse Andrews, Cascade Business News (CBN) became Central Oregon’s premier business publication. •

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