It’s November. That means eCommerce retailers are now knee deep into the Christmas rush. Months of detailed planning went into optimizing the digital shopping experience with product variety, free shipping, and flexible delivery choices. But many will have missed one of the biggest factors in establishing customer loyalty: implementing a hassle-free returns policy.

Fast forward to January. There’s a pile of presents in the hallway that missed the mark, including The Incredible Hulk pajamas we bought for our son. They were Incredibly Small. Now I have to figure out how to return them. I reflect on my first interaction with the retailer and I remembered being impressed. Like many eCommerce merchants, they made the product selection and checkout process really easy. There were a minimal number of clicks, prices and costs were disclosed early in the process, and they provided free shipping options, all to reduce the likelihood of shopping cart abandonment.

It turns out I’m like a lot of online shoppers. A recent Gartner study shows that low price, fast delivery, and great products are not the only reasons that customers return again and again to the same retailers. They are looking for an eCommerce sales experience that is easy, convenient, and as painless as possible.

But, increasingly, consumers are looking at what the post-sale experience is like. Deloitte’s 30th annual holiday survey of consumer spending preferences and trends indicate that 38% of consumers expect free returns and almost half (48%) want a wide variety of returns options.

Unfortunately, this is news to the majority of eCommerce retailers who might provide customers with a credit, but still expect them to jump through hoops to return a product, regardless of whether it was the customer’s fault or the retailer’s. An amazing, but not surprising, 82% of consumers will not buy from an online retailer again if their returns policy is viewed as a hassle.

Many retailers have forgotten a very important sales rule: it is much easier to sell to an existing customer than to create a new one. It is the after-the-sale experience they are forgetting … how I am treated if things don’t go well. After all, with eCommerce it’s a buyers market. I have many choices and I never have to leave my sofa. Treat me poorly and I will move on to the next seller's site.

So I approached my second interaction with the retailer with caution. How hard will they make it to return or exchange the Hulk pajamas? Will it be the start of a lasting, loyal relationship or a one-hit wonder? Will their returns policy be like L.L. Bean’s famous “return no matter what” policy? Will they be playing the long game like Zappos or Warby Parker who actually encourage returns as part of their business model? The long game always wins.

Good news! They made it very easy to print a FedEx label and drop off the return package at a FedEx store on my way to work. Refund applied to my credit card, no questions asked. Incredible Hulk pajamas crisis averted. I’m a customer for life.