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Returns policies are extremely important when selling online. If you sell expensive products or if you’re a new store looking to build up your customer base quickly, the best thing you can offer new customers is a lenient returns policy.

In this post we’ll look at a few things which should be included, plus see our return policy templates. If you’re using shopping cart software that doesn’t let you create or display a returns policy, give BigCommerce a try – it has a built-in returns policy which can be customized as required.

Anyway, on to the list:

  1. The longer the returns period, the greater your sales. Most online stores have a returns policy that expires after 30 or 60 days, but what if your returns policy lasted for 90 days, 120 days, 365 days or even for a lifetime? Buying online is all about risk for most people. They’re thinking to themselves “If I buy from this website and things don’t work out, will I lose my money or can I trust them to honor their returns policy?”. Extending your returns policy for as long as you can will make more than it will cost you, because the overwhelming majority of your customers will NOT act on your returns policy – they just want to know it’s there for peace of mind before they place their order.
  2. List all conditions and be up front about them. If you’ll only accept returns to a certain address or when the box is marked with particular details about the item being returned then mention that up front and provide examples to help your customers out should they ever need to return something to you. Ideally, however, your returns policy will have few (if any) conditions attached to it.
  3. Include testimonials from refunded (happy) customers. If customers do return an item and there’s really no other way around it then be cheerful and friendly about it. Process the return immediately and ask for a testimonial about their experience. Take their testimonial (and name+photo if you can) and add it to your returns policy page. When shoppers see the testimonials they’ll be even more likely to whip out their credit cards and buy from you.
  4. Offer store credit instead of a cash refund. Depending on what you sell, a lot of returns can be because the customer simply chose the wrong model number or product size. Because of this you should include two options in your returns policy: a) a cash refund or b) the issue of store credit. If the customer wants a cash refund then of course you should give it to them, but a surprising number of customers will be just fine with a store credit.
  5. Find any problems and fix them. This might sound obvious, but you should always ask the customer why they’re returning an item they bought from you. Keep a list of reasons and if you spot any trends then try to stop the problem in its tracks.
  6. Promote your returns policy like crazy. Most of your competitors wont even publish a returns policy, but if you’ve listened to the tips above and you sell good quality products then you should promote your returns policy everywhere you can: on your home page, on your shopping cart and checkout pages and even in your newsletters and promotions. Remember, winning your shopper’s trust can send your conversion rate soaring through the roof!

Hopefully these six tips can help you craft a compelling returns policy for your online store. Take a look at the Zappos returns policy for an excellent example of how it should be done – and for some ideas of your own!

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  • Andrew

    For small businesses, a generous return policy can be a disaster. You can get scammed in many ways by customers. We get returned dresses that have been worn, returned purses that are used, and customers who special order an expensive item, then change their mind. We get people who buy an authentic item from us, then return a cheap imitation. We have even had customers improperly wash a dry clean only item, shrink it, and return it, claiming it was too small.

    With the down economy, there are more criminals who will exploit a generous return policy. Zappos is large enough that they can absorb some losses. Most small businesses can’t afford to lose 10 or 20 percent a month in return fraud.

  • Cynthia Gilbert

    I will soon be starting a Natural Skin Care business hosted by BigCommerce. I researched various other companies and their return policies and it was a mixed bag. Some offered no questions asked refunds, some offered product must contain 50% product remaining refunds, and some offered refunds/ and or store credit, and some offered a refund only for unopened products. These will not be high priced products for purchase and am leaning towards not offering a refund except for unopened goods, or a store credit option upon return of unopened product. Obviously any other returns equal a loss to the company. Do you have any further insight you could share in making my decision?

    Thanks!
    Cynthia

  • Koko Udofia

    I have just started listing on the River, and hadn’t yet figured out what to do about return policy. I thought of being very protective and stingy about the terms. I never gave thought to the idea that a generous policy builds trust and confidence in buyers. I am very glad I took time to read your suggestions. So, now I am sure my return policy is going to be much more generous and hope these brings in more buyers. Thanks a lot!

    Koko

  • Hi George. You can simply create a web page in BigCommerce and create your own return policy in the WYSIWYG editor. Very easy.

  • GS

    Mitch,

    Where is there built in returns policy in BC in version 6.0.14? Thanks!

  • Hey Thank you so much for the great advice. I am not a huge company so I tend to be terrified of returns. But you make a lot of sense when you say to offer longer more easy returns times since most will not return but sales will be higher since they feel it is safe to buy from you. Great Great Great.

  • Thanks for the post. I had not thought about this detail but will be adding it to my site CleanCarve.com now.
    Is there instructions in big commerce on how to do a refund via the login system like zappos has listed etc. I would be interested to see this.

  • DoktorThomas

    Refunds can be a nightmare for small businesses, especially when consumer protection laws vary widely from from state to state. The surest way to avoid these problems is to have a generous easy return policies. In some situations, such as collectibles, the condition of the item sold determines value. Unread rare books can come back at a fraction of the shipped value because unwitting consumers have failed to maintain the original condition. Consider carefully the plethora of scenarios you might encounter when devising the policy for you site. If you are using PayPal, or credit card purchases, do not overlook charge backs. If you are selling from other companies' sites (eBay, Amazon, uBid, Craigslist, etc.) make sure your policy is consistent with their over all policy. As a small vendor you policy is apt to matter little.

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