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How to Write an Effective Return Policy for E-Commerce Stores?


Do you know what one of the top reasons that potential customers avoid doing business with a particular online stores? It’s the return policy. It’s either that the store does not have a reasonable return policy or they don’t have a return policy in place at all.

One guaranteed way to lose potential customers is to not have a return policy. Not having a return policy means that shoppers who look for those kind of things before they do business with an online store, it means that they will not purchase from you.

Why Do You Need a Reasonable Return Policy?

Despite the fact that many consumers have shifted to doing most of their shopping online rather than in person. They still have an expectation that they will be able to receive your product in the mail, try it on make sure it still fits, it looks good and they like it.

If not, they want to be able to return it to you. Whether that’s for an exchange or for a return.

No Return Policy = No New Customers

If you don’t have a return policy in place at all then you might have customers try to return items or exchange items 60 days after they’ve purchased that item from you. And if they’re trying to exchange you might not have it in stock anymore or if they want to return it and it’s been 60 days, if you had set a set policy in place that said no returns after 30 days, then you could refer that customer to your return policy and say: “Hey, I appreciate your business but we can’t return this per our policy.” Whereas if you didn’t have one in place and you just told them “No.” then it’s going to upset your customer and they might even leave you a bad review.

So, that’s an example of why it’s so important to have a return policy in place in advance. You can avoid upsetting your customers and avoid losing business and receiving bad reviews in advance, you’ll be a lot more likely to keep your customers loyal if they already know what your return policy is and it’s clear and listed on your website. You’ll be in a much better position to grow and build your business.

We know that the dreaded return from your customers is something that most business owners loathe. However you should keep in mind that accepting returns is part of providing excellent customer service.

Why Do You Need a Reasonable Return Policy
If you do have a really strict return policy where you do not accept returns at all unless it’s a damaged product you’re going to lose customers.

Return Policy Examples

  • 14 days with receipt, tags attached, no signs of wear or damage, store credit only (That’s a pretty strict return policy)
  • 7 days, tags attached, no signs of wear for a full refund, after 7 days store credit only
  • Returns on damaged items only (Not recommended)
    If you’re telling your customers that they cannot return your product, unless there’s damage on the product, then a lot of people will not shop with you. That’s because once again people want to know that they have the ability to try on the product and make sure it fits before making that final decision to keep it.

13 Questions to Help Craft Your Return Policy

We’ve reviewed a couple of examples. Let’s walk through some questions you need to answer in order to determine what you do want to include in your return policy.

1- How many days after delivery or purchase will you accept a return?

Will you accept a return 7 days after purchase? 30 days or 60 days? You want to think through that how long you’re going to give your customers the opportunity to return to the product to you.

2- Will you allow a more extended exchange period for international orders?

Another thing to think about here is some stores will provide a longer return period for international customers. So, that means that if you are an Australian store and selling products to the to a customer in the US, you might give that customer in the US 30 days to return the product instead of the 14 days that you give to Australian customers. It’d be a very nice gesture for international global stores because shipping of course takes longer overseas.

extended exchange period for international orders
Will you accept the product without a receipt?

3- Do the tags need to be attached? Is a receipt required?

Do they have to include the receipt or the invoice that you provided in the package in order to return the product? In addition to that, will you require that the tags still be attached? So, that is something that some stores require in some sports don’t. Some stores will make it mandatory that if you’ve taken the tag off.

4- What happens if you suspect the item has been worn?

You also want to think about what you’ll do if you suspect that the product has been worn before. If you find that there are stains on the product, deodorant marks or something like that, that something that you’re going to list in your return policy is something you won’t accept or how strict will you be about that something you want to think through.

5- What happens is the customer claims the item is damaged?

You also want to think through what will happen if a customer reports that the product arrived damaged. Will you require that they ship it back to you and then from there you will send them a new version of it? Or will you just send them a new version of the product without requiring that they send it back to you?

If you do require them to send it back to you are you going to pay for shipping. So, those are things you need to list in your return policy because a scenario like that could come up. You need to have it clear for your customers to be to understand and be aware of so that they don’t try to argue with you when these scenarios come up.

What happens is the customer claims the item is damaged
Maybe you can work out a lower rate with the shipping provider. That’s a reason that a lot of stores will choose to only work with a certain shipping provider.

6- Will you offer a full refund or store credit only?

We’d say that some stores will only provide store credit. However think about your experience as a shopper: Has that ever bothered you when you’ve tried to return a product and they only provide you with store credit?

For a lot of small business owners, it’s helpful for the store to save on these exchanges by only offering store credit. That’s because they won’t end up losing money. However you’re going to once again lose customers who don’t appreciate that policy.

7- Will you pay for the return shipping or have customer cover the cost?

Can they deduct it from the price of the product? The next thing to consider is if you do accept returns, do you require the customer use a very specific shipping provider or shipping service?

For example; do you require that your returns be sent through Fedex, UPS or USPS etc. That’s something that you might you might want to consider especially if you can work out a deal with one of those services where if you are paying for the return shipping.

8- Is there a particular shipping provider that you want them to use?

Can the customer choose their own?

Is there a particular shipping provider that you want them to use?
The next question is will you create the shipping label for your customer and then just ask that they print it out or will you have them fill out a form online and then email them the shipping label to print out?

9- Will you create the label for them and ask that the customer print it out?

Even if you’re not thinking about returning the product you already have the shipping label available to you. If you change your mind, and it’s very convenient for the customer, and it kind of entices the customer to want to continue to shop with that particular store. That’s because that store makes it so easy if there is a return. They can just quickly ship it back and then exchange it or get their money back.

Of course that makes it harder on you as the store owner to provide a shipping label with every purchase. However it’s one of those things where if the customer really appreciates. That kind of thing they’ll continue to shop with you and become more loyal.

10- Are there any items you will not accept for return (lingerie, swim)?

You also want to consider, are there any items that you will not accept for a return like lingerie, swim or certain accessories? A lot of stores have very different policies for things like that. Of course some stores have no problem accepting returns on lingerie while others say no returns for products like lingerie or swimwear.

11- Are sale items final or will you accept a return on a discount item?

You also want to include in your return policy whether all sale items will be marked. As final or if you will accept a return on a discounted item. So, let’s say you put something on sale and a customer buys it. Since it’s a sale item does that mean they’re no longer able to return it because all sale items are final or do they still have the the option to return it.

Are sale items final or will you accept a return on a discount item
Are you going to give your customers an extension during holiday seasons to make those returns?

12- Is there a email the customer can contact with questions?

You also want to provide your customers with an email address that they can email. If they have specific questions about returns, for those of you who are small online stores maybe you’re one woman or one-man show, you might want to just stick to your normal contact email address but the larger you get.

Once you reach a certain volume of returns every month it is handy to have a specific email box dedicated to returns rather than have it all come through one email address. That’s just something that you consider as you continue to grow.

13- Is there an extension during holiday seasons?

That’s something you’ll see pretty common during around Christmas, New Year’s or the holidays. Let’s say people are buying presents for people and they’re busy. They go out of town, visit relatives and maybe they gift the relative something and the relative wants to return it later.

Are you going to give them an extension during holiday seasons to make those returns? That’s something that a lot of customers appreciate around the holidays because let’s face it everyone’s just busy with everything during the holidays. So, that’s like a little nice gesture you can provide to your customers during that time.