With the global eCommerce market becoming increasingly saturated, online retailers are constantly striving to find a way to stand out. Your returns policy is one way in which you can gain an advantage over your competitors.
As consumer expectations evolve, studies show that a clear returns and refunds policy affects a customer’s purchasing decision, while others have found that free returns shipping is the most important return policy characteristic for online shoppers.
In this article, we take you through the key elements you need to think about and replicate for your returns policy and offer a free return policy template at the end of this guide.
Alternatively, you can go straight to the free return policy template now.
Factors that contribute towards an excellent returns policy
1. Adhere to the laws in your respective country
Make sure to look up online returns requirements before creating your returns policy.
For example, in the United Kingdom, online, mail and telephone order customers have the right to cancel their order for a limited time even if the products aren’t faulty in any way.
You must offer a refund to customers if they have told you within 14 days of receiving their items that they wish to process a refund. After this, they then have another 14 days in which to return the goods after telling you.
This is known as distance selling.
All online retailers must offer a returns and refunds policy as customers buy the items without seeing them in person – meaning that they are automatically eligible for return.
There are other stipulations surrounding items that a refund must be offered if they’re faulty, regardless of whether or not it was a custom order. These include:
- Personalised items
- Customised items
- Newspapers and magazines
- Unwrapped CDs, DVDs and computer software
In contrast, for UK sellers, you need not worry about refunding a customer if they:
- Knew an item was faulty at the time of purchase
- Damaged an item by trying to repair it themselves
2. Keep your language simple
As a clear returns policy can be used as part of a consumer’s purchase decision-making process, you want to keep your language as simple and as concise as possible.
The last thing you want to do is deter a new customer from making a purchase; by writing in simple language you can make sure that your customers and potential customers understand exactly what they need to do in order to process a return.
Using simple language will also work in your favour should a customer be looking to return an item in exchange for a refund. Your customers shouldn’t have to jump through hoops in order to work out how to do this – keep their needs front of mind at all times.
What do we mean by simple language?
Try out short and straightforward sentences and break your returns policy into a number of chronological steps to guide your readers into how your returns process works.
Avoid complex jargon or words that seem out of touch with your overall brand.
For example, a returns authorisation request is a common term in eCommerce, but your customer doesn’t need to know what one is in order to return an item. Keep it simple.
By utilising simple language in your returns policy, your customers are much more likely to have a positive experience which can encourage repeat purchases further down the line.
In fact, of the 60% of online shoppers that make at least one return or exchange per year, 95% will make another purchase if the return experience was positive.
Interestingly, customers that have a poor experience that is handled well will likely end up more loyal than they were in the first place – great news for smaller retail businesses.
3. State your timeframes clearly
One thing you’ll want to make sure that you do is to state your timeframes for returns processing clearly, so that customers understand how long they have to return an item.
Although the minimum amount of time you have to give your customers is two weeks, the general rule of thumb is between two weeks and a month. This gives your customers plenty of time to decide whether or not they wish to keep your product.
That said, setting larger timeframes can give you a competitive advantage.
For example, leading online skate wear store Route One offers customers up to 100 days to process a return for any reason, which helps to build trust and gains respect from their customer base.
Alternatively, you could consider offering an extended returns time period through busy periods such as the Christmas holidays.
This keeps shoppers happy as should they buy unwanted or wrongly sized products for relatives at Christmas, they are safe in the knowledge that something can be done about it.
4. Define expected condition and any other returns requirements
Keep in mind that you will want to clearly define the expected condition of any returns that are sent back to your business.
For example, you may want to stipulate that items need to be returned in pristine condition and in their original packaging, unworn and with the tags on. This enables you to re-list and resell the item at a later date.
As an example, Route One clearly states that no shoes should be returned using the shoe box as outer packaging as this means that they can’t sell the item again.
If you don’t state the exact condition you expect items to be returned in, then you may receive some less than pleasant returns. By clearly articulating the condition you can alleviate these worries and reduce the likelihood of items being returned in a poor state.
Should a customer return an item in an unsellable condition, then you will need to handle the process carefully. Get in touch with the customer and explain why you can’t accept this return as it contravenes your returns and refunds policy.
After all, you do have a return policy template in place for a good reason.
5. Make your returns policy visible
As consumers may want to view your returns policy before even making a purchase, you should make sure that it is clearly visible on your website.
Most eCommerce businesses place their returns and delivery information in the footer of their website. Alternatively, you could place it in the header.
Either way, it needs to be found by your customers quickly and easily to enhance their overall online shopping experience with your retail business.
6. Offer a line of communication with your customers
It’s important to remember the needs of your customers above all else.
When writing your return policy template, make sure to include a line of communication between you and your customers.
Whether this is through the phone, via social media or email is up to you, but you should never leave unhappy customers alone or confused by a policy on your website.
Well, put yourself in your customer’s shoes:
Imagine you were trying to work out how to process a return on a website and couldn’t understand what the returns policy meant and couldn’t find a better way to get in touch.
You’d be pretty annoyed, right? And you’d probably want to talk to someone about it.
That’s why offering a line of communication can be key to an effective returns policy.
7. Consider offering free returns
You want to make processing returns as easy as possible for your customers. One way in which you can achieve this is through offering free returns.
In fact, many studies have found that free returns shipping is the most important return policy characteristic for online shoppers.
Although this may mean extra costs for your business, free returns can turn one-time buyers into loyal purchasers and enable you to maintain strong relationships with your current customer base.
Thanks for your purchase with us. In the event that you are not completely satisfied with your order, you have 30 days to return the goods to the following address:
Please keep in mind that any item sent for a full refund must be delivered in unused or unworn and in the same condition as you received it, with the tags still on the product.
Alternatively, if you would like to make use of in-store credit, please make a note of this on your returns form. If you lose your returns form, then another copy can be printed here.
In the event an item is received broken or damaged, then you will be given a full refund or we’re happy to exchange the item, dependent on what you are likely to prefer.
Please note that it is the customer who is responsible for return shipping fees and we cannot take responsibility for the delivery time or loss of a returned package, so we recommend using tracking numbers to insure your package is returned to us.
If you need to talk to someone about your return or refund, we’re here to help.
Feel free to email us or to drop us a line on [contact number].
Keep your return policies clear and concise
When it comes to writing your own returns policy, remember to keep it clear and concise at all costs. An effective returns policy is worth its weight in gold – not only does it keep your customers happy, but it can also increase the likelihood of first-time buyers.
Return policies shouldn’t create hassle or stress for your customers. Instead, they should be straightforward and simple to understand. The last thing you’ll want to do is leave someone confused on your website.
Looking to take your online retail company to the next level? Find out 50 new ways to grow your business and start thinking bigger.