Returns can be a burdensome and altogether exhausting part of doing business online. You might celebrate when a new customer goes on an extravagant shopping spree with you one day, just to find them demanding a full refund for all those used goods weeks later.
This scenario is not only demoralizing; it can shrink your profits if you try to appease them, and may even hurt your brand reputation if you can’t. But you know what they say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
A well-written return policy can diminish difficult situations like these with clear, explicit guidelines. But they can also enhance your customer experiences in ways that inspire trust and motivate repeat business if you aim to benefit your customers too! Here are some considerations, tips, and best practices to accomplish this.
1. Be flexible
Your policy will be a direct reflection of your commitment to customer service. So don’t approach returns as a problem; see it as an opportunity to improve trust and deliver customer satisfaction.
A 2019 UPS study found that 73% of shoppers feel the overall returns experience impacts their likelihood to purchase from a retailer again. You don’t have to give away the farm, but you should be flexible if you want to find ways to appeal to customers without breaking the bank.
2. Study the data
Take a peek under the hood of your e-commerce platform and you’ll quickly see what’s working for your business and where you can make some tweaks.
Reports are helpful for viewing return rates, return reasons, and lists of serial returners. Carefully analyze these to spot recurring trends. This makes it much easier to identify issues that may need to be addressed in your policy.
3. Build from the basics
Ready to write? Start with the basics.
The list below contains the basic concepts that every e-commerce policy should address. Use this as a tool to formulate an outline and fill in your unique details. Consider adding more information based on frequently asked questions to address common concerns.
Will your return policy offer full refunds, partial refunds, exchanges, or store credit– or will you offer a mixture of all of the above? Name conditions and exceptions for each type.
If you are providing multiple refund options, be clear about what makes them eligible for each. I.e. “Customers will receive store credit for all returns with the exception of damaged goods. If you receive a defective or damaged product, we will either refund you the full amount or send a free replacement for it.”
Fees or free?
If you offer free returns, great! Advertise that like you would free shipping!
If your budget doesn’t allow for this, just make it very clear what costs they’re responsible for. You don’t want customers to be surprised by these. The same goes for restocking fees.
Condition of returned items
What condition do returned items need to be in to be eligible for a refund? If you don’t want your merchandise coming back in anything other than a pristine condition, make sure you require this information. I.e. “unopened in original packaging” or “in original condition with tags”, etc.
Final sale items
If you have any “final sale” items, let customers know that there are no returns, refunds, or exchanges on these. It’s a good idea to consider this policy for clearance sale items, perishable items, custom orders, and undergarments.
How many days does a customer have to initiate their return? List the number of days you’ll allow between the purchase and their request.
How to initiate a return & what to expect after
What steps do they need to take? Do customers have the ability to start an online return right from your website or do they need to send a request to a customer service email?
Once the customer has initiated their return, when can they expect an update? After you or your staff have approved their request, how will they know?
Offering refunds? Give an estimate of how long they’ll have to wait to receive funds in their bank account. Sometimes refunds take a while, and you don’t want to frustrate them by making them guess.
4. Keep it simple
Keep things simple and straightforward so customers don’t drown in information or get lost on the meaning. Here are some things you can do to increase readability.
- Organize information in a way that makes sense.
- Keep things skimmable with H1 and H2 tags.
- Avoid sounding like a lawyer. (No one wants to read that.)
- Cut unnecessary and repetitive language.
5. Keep it accessible
Don’t make customers dig for important info. Wherever you sell, make your return policy easy to find. Link, post, and pin to important places.
- Dedicated Return Policy page
- Website footer
- FAQ page
- Product pages
- On the checkout screen
- On packing slips
And when you’re ready tell the world- promote, promote, promote! Social media is a great tool to use when you’re ready to make big announcements. Use it to get the word out.
As time goes on, you’ll want to revisit your policy to see what’s working and what may need improvements. Remember to analyze your data and listen to customer feedback. Both will be valuable in readjusting and refining your return policy.