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How to write a return policy for your ecommerce brand

Aug 10, 2022





How to write a return policy

Let’s face it, returns are a necessary evil for any ecommerce business owner. You may have countless positive reviews, detailed product pages, and clear product descriptions and images, but once the customer receives their order, there’s always the chance that it’s not what they were looking for. Nevertheless, an unhappy customer today isn’t an unhappy customer for life. With an easy-to-find, easy-to-understand, and easy-to-execute return policy, you may be able to retain that buyer’s business after all.

Why return policies are important

One of the most difficult things about making a purchase online is that you don’t have the product in front of you. You can’t touch it. You can’t check it for damage. You can’t tell if it’s soft like a pillow or plush like a stuffed animal. The list goes on. Sure, well-written, detailed product descriptions go a long way, but they’re not the be-all and end-all. In fact, a strong return policy gives consumers confidence and security when making a purchase. 

Why? Well, a transparent return policy lets your prospective customer know that what they’re buying is guaranteed to be what it’s represented to be. A business’ return policy lets a consumer know: “If you’re willing to take a chance on our product, we’re willing to help you return it.” Think about the flipside. If an ecommerce store doesn’t provide a return policy, it appears extremely suspicious, no? And in that situation, people are more unlikely to take the risk.

What makes a good return policy?

Traditional, brick-and-mortar retailers have it easy when it comes to managing returns because it’s a familiar shopping experience for most people. A typical return policy includes concepts like keeping the tags on, no wear and tear, within 30 days, etc. However, online stores need to go the extra mile. They must ensure that their return policies are not only fair but appealing enough to their customers that they’ll take the risk of buying an item they can’t see or touch. 

A good ecommerce return policy is persuasive and evokes emotions like confidence and security. A return policy should not be an afterthought. In fact, it’s just as important as everything else you put on your website. 

In this post, we’ll uncover five best practices for writing a return policy that’s sure to meet your customers’ expectations. 

Here they are. Five best practices for writing a good return policy:

  • Include the basics
  • Use layman's terms
  • Make it easy to find
  • Give the customer options
  • Automate your returns

Return policy best practice #1: Include the basics

Naturally, every return policy will vary from business to business. For example, if your company sells mattresses versus t-shirts versus toilet bowl cleaners…you see where we’re going with this. Some items are more difficult to return than others and some items can’t be returned after using them.

Here’s a checklist of some basic things you should include in your return policy:

  • How many days does a customer have to make a return?
  • How does a customer initiate a return? 
  • What conditions must the returned item(s) be in? Must the tags or original packaging remain intact?
  • Are some items restricted from returns altogether? For example, undergarments.
  • Can an online purchase be returned to a store in person?
  • Is a receipt required to make a return?
  • Can discounted items be returned?
  • How will the customer be refunded?
  • When will the customer be refunded? And how long will it take?
  • Who is responsible for shipping costs? Will the business provide a return label? If so, how is it requested?
  • Are any restocking fees associated with the return?

Of course, this list may not be comprehensive, but it should get you thinking. What else is unique to your business and what else will help provide the consumer with confidence when making the purchase decision?

Return policy best practice #2: It’s an extension of your brand

Remember what we said earlier? About a return policy acting as a persuasive document? Well, think about the last time someone spoke to you using jargon or legalese. Odds are you didn’t feel entirely comfortable in that situation—unless you’re a lawyer. When you craft a return policy, it’s best to write the same way that your brand speaks. 

So, if your brand uses conversational, flowing language, write your return policy that way. If your brand is elegant and high-end, express your return policy with that same air. The point is that your return policy shouldn’t be confusing and should be an extension of your brand.

You may be thinking that return policies are serious documents. And you’re not wrong. Even if you hired a lawyer to help you flesh out the details, write and rewrite the document until the legally binding language is written in such a way that your customers understand it and your lawyer agrees it gets the point across.

Your return policy will be in good shape if it’s clear, concise, not open to interpretation, and sounds like it’s coming from your brand—not the law offices of so and so.

Pro-tip: Some brands use their return policy to foster an affinity for their brand and make it part of their overall mission. For example, a DTC brand that sells mattresses and donates used returns to charity, or a pet-supply ecommerce brand that offers refunds if your furry friend passes on, then donates the items to local shelters.

Return policy best practice #3: Make it easy to find and use

A well-written return policy isn’t any good if consumers can’t find it. If your website is really big with lots of places for the consumer to go, you’ll have a tougher time making sure that they’re able to navigate to it.

Here are some things to consider that will make it easy to find your return policy:

  • Be sure to include a link to your return policy on your product pages, checkout pages, and in the footer of your website.
  • Test your site’s search functionality to make sure that a quick search for “return policy” and related terms brings up your return policy.
  • Be careful not to bury the return policy in other sections of your site, such as “Contact Us,” “FAQs,” or “Shipping information.” Note: It’s OK to have the return policy on these pages, but it’s not the only place it should be. 
  • Run a user experience (UX) test on your site to see if people are able to find it from your home page (or other starting pages on your site).

Beyond the placement of your return policy on your website, you’ll also want to make sure that it’s easy to use. Try to minimize the number of clicks it takes for a customer to begin a return. If you’re able to simplify the process, you’ll reduce the chance of frustration that may ultimately lead to a negative return experience.

Return policy best practice #4: Give the customer options

In order to provide your customers exactly what they want, you may need to offer several options for returning a product. The standard option is a normal return, where the customer sends the item back to you in exchange for money returned to their original form of payment. 

Another useful option is to offer exchanges. With an exchange, the loss is often less impactful to the business. And with strong product margins, offering a replacement product instead of a full refund can keep your business cash flow positive.

A common way to encourage exchanges over returns is by offering a promotion for an exchange. For example, $10 off the new item if you exchange it instead of merely returning it—it’s something that can be worked into your margins.

Store credit is another option you can provide for customers who know they’ll want to make a purchase soon but aren’t ready at the moment. This is also a strong option for people trying to make a return outside of the allotted 30-60-90-day window.

Provide a warranty return policy

It’s important not to forget about warranty returns when you’re crafting your return policy. While not all businesses need to worry about this, warranties show that you stand by your products. It sends the message: “We don’t think your product is going to break, therefore we’re happy to replace it if it does.”

It’s worth mentioning that if you sell your product via a third-party channel (like Amazon or Target) versus your DTC website, you’ll want to make sure your warranty program is still able to offer returns—despite any third-party influence.

Return policy best practice #5: Automate your returns

Fortunately, merchants can communicate their return policy and process directly on their online store and use the Airhouse dashboard to manage the return behind the scenes.

As an ecommerce business, there’s a lot that you have to consider when building a return policy that works for your customers, but don’t forget to consider how you’re going to manage them. You’ll want to put a return management strategy in place to make sure that your products are being received at your fulfillment center and put back on the shelves to resell. Having an easy process can take the pain out of returns for both businesses and customers alike. 

Whether you’re standing up your business’ first return policy or revamping a flawed one, the right software can help cut down the amount of customer service hours spent on returns.

Return policy examples

Let’s take a look at some return policies that we believe are meeting the mark. Keep in mind that not all policies will be suitable for your business, but here’s some inspiration for you to start with.

Chubbies’ return policy

As an apparel brand, it’s inevitable that returns will come up. Even the best one-size-fits-all brands will still have to manage returns. We think Chubbies does an excellent job.

Chubbies' return policy

Remember what we said earlier about return policies needing to be clear, concise, simple, and an extension of your brand. That’s exactly what Chubbies does. In three short paragraphs, they tell you how to start your return, what to expect, and add in a bit of their marketing flare—shaboomslam!

Best Buy return policy

Despite being a brand that didn’t get its start in ecommerce, Best Buy has managed to adapt and provide an amazing return policy and experience—in-store or online.

Best Buy return policy

Like Chubbies, they provide you a glimpse into their brand promise so you feel confident that you’re backed by them every step of the way. Also, understanding that it’s common people may want to make a return in-store or online, they clearly show you how you can get started with either.

IKEA return policy

Our final example is IKEA—a furniture store. IKEA offers customers 365 days to return their product if they’re unsatisfied with it. That’s a long time. 

IKEA return policy

Something worth pointing out is what they write in bold—that they don’t accept returns for plants, cut fabric, custom countertops, and as-is products. This is notable because it’s important to know right away what can and cannot be returned.

Now that you’ve seen some examples, let’s move on to our return policy template that you can use as reference when you build your own. 

Ecommerce return policy template

Below is a simple return policy template that you can adapt to your business. You’ll want to replace the text in bold so you can make sure it fits your business’ needs. This template hasn’t been reviewed by a lawyer or anything like that, so if your business’ return policy is complex, you may want to get a second set of eyes.

OK, here’s where to start:

If you’re looking to return or exchange your order for whatever reason, we're here to help! We offer free returns within 30 days of purchase. You can return your product for store credit, a different product, or a refund to the original payment method.

As you can see, this introduction to your return policy is short and clear—answering the most high-level questions a customer may have. You may be thinking that it’s a little too simple or boring, but that’s where your brand can customize it to suit your needs and fit your brand voice!

Here are some other things to consider that you may want to follow your introduction:

  • Any common exceptions to your policy (provide examples)
  • Any expected delays in the return process (COVID-19, etc)
  • Encouragement that there’s nothing to worry about
  • How long it takes to receive your refund, replacement product, or store credit
  • Any shipping fees the customer will need to pay
  • Any return restocking fees the customer will need to pay
  • How you handle lost or damaged returns
  • Contact information for your business if the customer has more questions
  • Links to any other relevant information or frequently asked questions

If you take all of this information into account, you’re well on your way to writing a return policy that meets your customer’s expectations.

Ready to manage your returns better? Use our guide to choosing a fulfillment partner to find the best fit for your company.

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