What Businesses Should Know for Successful Chargeback Reversals

Businesses can do everything right in their ecommerce business and still run face first into one of the biggest drains on their bottom line and reputation: chargebacks.

In addition to how frustrating they can be, chargebacks are expensive: For every dollar in chargebacks, businesses lose $3.75 in time, fees, physical goods and shipping costs. Chargebacks can also threaten a business’s relationship with payment processors if their chargeback rate is too high. Simply put, too many chargebacks can cripple an ecommerce business.

That’s why businesses need a chargeback reversals strategy that will help them secure more of their hard-earned revenue. What should this strategy contain? A good start is to look at business best practices for winning chargeback disputes.

7 Ways Businesses Win Chargeback Disputes

Here are seven ways ecommerce businesses can increase their chances of winning chargeback reversals:

1. Learn How Chargebacks Work

2. Pay Attention to Reason Codes

3. Know Which “Compelling Evidence” Is Required

4. Respond Within Required Timeframes

5. Look for Behavior Patterns

6. Write Compelling Rebuttal Letters

7. Invest in Customer Service

These tips will not only help increase the chances of reversing chargebacks, but they can also help businesses reduce the factors that lead to unnecessary chargebacks. For the first tip, let’s start with the basics.

1. Learn How Chargebacks Work

Not every business owner has studied chargebacks and the impact they can have on their business. But experienced fraudsters know everything about chargebacks – they are practically PhDs in the subject. Businesses need to be equally aware and informed, starting with the basics:

What are chargebacks?

Chargebacks are the fees businesses pay when a transaction is reversed by a payment processor. Chargebacks usually result from an authorization issue (this is where card-not-present [CNP] and friendly fraud takes place), or a settlement issue – due to a processing problem or a valid customer-related dispute.

All chargebacks, regardless of their origin, impact a business’s chargeback rate. Payment processors typically set a 1% threshold for that rate. Anytime a business exceeds the threshold, they are placed in a processor-specific management program with consequences ranging from high fees to being classified as a “high-risk” business.

How does the chargeback process work?

Understanding the chargeback process can help businesses protect themselves from chargebacks and offer insight into winning chargeback reversals.

When a cardholder disputes a transaction, the process involves three steps:

  1. calendar iconThe business is notified of a pending chargeback and given a set timeframe to respond, depending on the payment processor.

  2. magnifying glass icon over a document Businesses gather as much evidence as they can to prove the transaction was valid and submit it to the payment processor.

  3. icon of a scale and a personThe payment processor determines if the business is subject to a chargeback or the customer dispute is denied.



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Why it makes sense to dispute chargebacks

On a yearly basis, chargebacks cost online businesses around $125 billion. That translates to a loss of $3.75 for every $1 in chargebacks.

Here’s how that breaks down:

Credit card processing fees

Every time an issuer rules in favor of the buyer, it charges back to the seller the wholesale cost of the transaction plus the processor’s rate markup – plus the business loses the processing fees associated with the transaction.

Acquiring bank fees

The issuer also assesses a chargeback fee – ranging from $20-$100 – to cover the costs incurred during the chargeback process. As the seller’s chargeback risk increases, so does the chargeback fee. Note: even if the seller wins the chargeback dispute, they still have to pay the chargeback fee.

Operational expenses

The operational costs associated with a chargeback can pile up quickly. Chargebacks aren’t processed and dispositioned in a matter of a few days – it can be six weeks to six months before a decision is made. In that time, businesses are out the value of the merchandise, the labor costs associated with order fulfillment and shipping, and the reallocation of staff to collect evidence and respond to the issuer.

Chargeback monitoring programs

When a business crosses the chargeback ratio threshold – usually 1% – it risks being placed in a chargeback monitoring program and being labeled as “high risk.” The result is significantly higher fees for every chargeback and an arduous process to graduate out of the program. Often, businesses must dedicate additional resources to reduce their chargeback rate, which adds more expense.

2. Pay Attention to Reason Codes

Every chargeback has an associated reason code that represents what the customer reported when filing the dispute. These codes help businesses understand why the chargeback was filed and what compelling evidence is required for a successful chargeback reversal.

Reason codes are also helpful when businesses compile data about their chargebacks. They can identify patterns like:

  • Which transactions have the potential to affect their revenue
  • Which codes their product or service line tends to trigger most frequently
  • Which chargebacks are happening more regularly
  • When chargebacks typically take place the most

Identifying these patterns assists businesses in preventing and defending against future chargebacks.

Chargebacks 101: Understanding the Four Chargeback Types

3. Know Which “Compelling Evidence” Is Required

The second step in the chargeback process is when businesses submit “compelling evidence” – to prove the validity of the transaction in question. To fight a chargeback, your evidence should include:

  • Confirmation the customer was on your website
  • Proof the customer intended to make a purchase
  • Documentation showing the product or service was delivered or accessed
  • Proof the cardholder used the product or service
  • Verification of fraudulent behavior patterns
  • Summary of evidence in rebuttal letters

Without the right documentation, businesses find themselves fighting an uphill battle. The majority of this evidence comes from the business’s business records, such as sales receipts, order forms, and tracking numbers, but there is a host of other information that businesses should maintain and organize as a precaution. Let’s explore each of these items in detail.

Confirmation the customer was on your website

Your website and payment gateway should be able to capture the key evidence that will help place the customer at the point of sale. This might include:

  • The cardholder’s IP address
  • A positive match of the cardholder’s billing address through the address verification system (AVS)
  • A confirmed match for the cardholder’s CVV

Proof the customer intended to make a purchase

If you are tracking cardholders’ IP addresses when they first enter a website, you can use that number to track the customer’s activity across your entire site. For instance, you can document that the customer visited pricing pages, actively searched for the product in question, and spent time reading product reviews — all useful information in a chargeback dispute.

Documentation showing the product or service was delivered or accessed

Businesses selling physical goods should always ship products using delivery confirmation. You might even want to take that a step further by requiring a signature upon delivery.

For retailers selling digital goods or services, you’ll want to have a digital receipt confirming delivery and demonstrating the customer logged in, downloaded, viewed and used a digital order (e.g., computer software, in-game purchases). You should also always require shipping addresses, even if delivery is always virtual. Having the shipping address lets you use AVS to compare billing and shipping addresses. You can even use that address to ship a physical package to the customer that includes download instructions, receipts and other relevant purchasing information. In addition to providing a great customer experience, this also gives you the proof of delivery you need to make it harder for a customer to claim they didn’t receive an order.

Proof the cardholder used the product or service

Sometimes, it’s not enough to show that the product was delivered to the address provided at checkout. Instead, you might also need to show that the customer used the item they ordered. That might mean submitting screenshots of a customer’s public social media account that shows the disputed goods being used. Or if available, you can submit timestamped posts or recorded videos of the customer flaunting the purchase.

Verification of fraudulent behavior patterns

Fraudsters tend to be repeat offenders when it comes to chargebacks: Consumers who file a chargeback are 9 times more likely to do it again, while 40% will try it again within 60 days. So how might you know when you have a repeat offender on your hands? If your website is capturing the key evidence that proves a fraudster has been on the website before, that information can be used to tie them to previous chargebacks.

Summary of evidence in rebuttal letters

You can bolster your evidence with a well-crafted rebuttal letter that succinctly outlines the facts surrounding the dispute.

It’s important to note that compelling evidence can vary by industry. Let’s take a look at the documentation and evidence that can help businesses win chargeback reversals for specific types of merchandise:

When selling physical goods

The most important piece of evidence a business needs for a chargeback relating to physical goods is proof of delivery. It’s even more compelling when the customer has signed for the delivery. Other compelling evidence includes:

  • Correspondence between the customer and the business’s customer service department
  • Screenshots of a customer’s public social media account that shows the disputed goods being used
  • AVS and CVV match from the customer’s credit card

Inside Ecommerce: Guide to AVS Mismatch

When selling digital products

Proving that a digital product or subscription transaction is valid can be more challenging because there are so many variables involved. The most important data to maintain when preventing chargeback risks for virtual items is the customer’s IP address. This also helps to track down criminals in the event the purchase was made fraudulently. Here is more evidence that can be used to prove the validity of a digital transaction:

  • AVS & CVV match
  • GEO location
  • Saved email invoices
  • Saved transcripts/screenshots of all customer service communications
  • Proof the customer logged in, downloaded, viewed, and used a digital order (using IP address)
  • Evidence the customer accepted the business’ service, return and refund policies
  • Documentation showing the customer was notified about any upcoming recurring purchases

When selling travel or other services

Travel industry chargebacks and chargebacks for other similar services can be difficult to combat, but it’s not impossible. Here is what online travel businesses should track and submit as compelling evidence for chargeback reversals:

  • AVS & CVV match
  • Copies of tickets and check-in confirmations
  • Proof of travel through public social media accounts
  • The terms and conditions the customer agreed to at the time of purchase

4. Respond Within Required Timeframes

Payment processors give customers considerable time to file a dispute, often up to 120 days in the United States and even longer in other parts of the world like the United Kingdom, Asia and Europe. Businesses have a much shorter window to respond, and those response timeframes vary by payment platform:

Visa, PayPal, mastercard, American Express and Discover logo

In the past, when businesses failed to respond promptly, credit card issuers would simply assume the business accepted the chargeback. But with the Visa Claims Resolution initiative, businesses may now face additional fines if they don’t submit a formal response to Visa either accepting or denying the charge.

Is Your Chargeback Rate Accurate?

5. Look for Behavior Patterns

People naturally follow regular behavior patterns. That’s how businesses learn about their customers and cater offers to them. At the same time, customers who consistently file chargebacks may, in fact, be fraudsters.

Pay attention to patterns such as the same customer filing multiple chargebacks and their success rate. If businesses can find evidence these customers habitually file chargebacks — and lose in representment — this can bolster the case for fraudulent chargebacks. There may be a specific address associated with multiple chargebacks, or even a time of year. Not only can this help businesses detect potential fraud, the data gathered may also be useful to submit to the payment processor as evidence.

This type of tracking in partnership with a fraud protection solution can help businesses prevent fraudulent chargebacks instead of resorting to ineffective measures such as mass declining of transactions. When businesses default to declining transactions as a preventative measure, they risk increasing the number of false declines, which can be even more detrimental to their business. False declines are a leading reason why customers opt not to do business with a business again.

6. Write Compelling Rebuttal Letters

While the evidence a business submits is intended to support their case, a carefully constructed rebuttal letter offers the opportunity to succinctly summarize the key facts that can help them win chargeback reversals.

Here are some tips for constructing a compelling rebuttal letter:

Keep it short

The letter itself doesn’t need to be longer than one page. Sentences should be clear and concise.

Keep it objective

No matter how frustrated a business is with a customer or the situation, they need to stick with the facts and stay focused on the goal – winning the chargeback reversal.

Make it specific

Customize the rebuttal letter to each dispute and focus on the evidence being submitted. Make sure to include referential details like chargeback reason code and the amount being contested.

7. Invest in Customer Service

The relationship between business and customer can significantly impact how a customer acts when something goes wrong. A portion of chargebacks are valid, caused by technology issues or a legitimate problem with the product or service. Some customers genuinely want to do the right thing, but a frustrating return policy or poor customer service will turn them toward the easier option: filing a chargeback.

These chargebacks can often be prevented by focusing on customer service. Whether it’s implementing chatbots to quickly answer customers’ questions, sending pre-delivery confirmation emails, or including pre-paid shipping labels for any potential returns, businesses can do quite a bit to improve the odds that a disgruntled customer will come to them instead of filing a chargeback with their credit card company.

To combat chargebacks, businesses need to have an in-depth understanding of their customers, how they think about ecommerce, how they behave and what they want from their online shopping experience.

Use policy to counter chargeback misuse

In the past, customers had to call a credit card issuer’s customer service line to file a credit card dispute. But today, almost every issuer lets consumers quickly dispute charges online — with some even offering chargeback filing options on their mobile apps.

That ease in making a chargeback filing appears to have had an unintended consequence. Recent research found a “strong disconnect between shoppers and the inner workings of the chargeback process.” Half of cardholders surveyed admitted to filing a chargeback with their bank without ever trying to contact the business.

To ensure customers are aware of, and make use of, a business’s refund policy, it must be clear and easy to find. Here are some options to encourage customers to request a refund rather than a chargeback:

  • Highlighting your refund policies prominently on checkout pages — even requiring customers to check a box saying they’ve read and understand the policies.
  • Be clear about time limits or condition requirements for returns. Make it clear on your website, at checkout, and in emails.

Businesses may be inclined to be more flexible about their return policies; after all, sometimes it’s easier to refund a customer their money than fight a chargeback. However, refunds come with their own high price to businesses, in reverse logistics, employee processing time and potentially storage space. Refund fraud is also a growing risk.

The bottom line is that striking the right balance between preventing chargebacks and ensuring refunds are legitimate is tricky. And not a skill any business owner wants to spend time mastering.

Partner With a Chargeback Prevention Specialist

Building an ecommerce business is challenging enough without having to be an expert in chargeback processes. Sometimes it helps to have an expert in your corner that knows not only how to dispute chargebacks, but how to prevent them in the first place.

For example, the reason codes card issuers use to categorize chargebacks have brought some clarity to the process. Another rule automatically invalidates chargebacks from customers that file too often.

Our Chargeback Guarantee

If you’ve made it through this entire post (or even just skimmed to the bottom), you’ve learned that, while chargebacks plague most ecommerce businesses, they can be reduced. A robust fraud protection solution will thwart would-be scam artists and slash your chargeback rate to a manageable level.

When you work with ClearSale, you won’t have to pay for chargeback fraud at all. Our single card-not-present fraud solution uses expert staff and artificial intelligence to evaluate transactions and stymie fraud before it cuts into your revenue. If a case of chargeback fraud does make it past our system, we’ll pay the entire amount of the chargeback.

Contact ClearSale today to learn how our chargeback protection solution can bring security to your sales, increase revenue and eliminate the financial and reputational costs of chargebacks.

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