How to Write a Stellar Ecommerce Return Policy: Examples & Best Practices

July 19, 2022
by
Rachel Go

How to Write a Stellar Ecommerce Return Policy: Examples & Best Practices

July 19, 2022
by
Rachel Go
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Although returns are an often overlooked aspect of doing business (and many merchants wish they ceased to exist), having a strong ecommerce return policy can positively impact your conversion rate.

Mistakes are inevitable, and shoppers want the assurance that if they spend their hard-earned money on your brand and something goes wrong, you’ll fix it

That’s why 76% of consumers consider a return policy to be a major factor when shopping online.

However, if you fail to define your return policy, you risk unscrupulous consumers taking advantage of your store. 

In this article, we’ll break down what an ecommerce return policy is, what it should look like, and provide examples of successful policies.

Read on to learn about:

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What is an ecommerce return policy?

illustration customer returning online order to store

An ecommerce return policy is your promise to customers that outlines how returns will be handled and under what parameters

"Return policies must include every bit of information that can help a potential buyer make an informed purchase decision and feel safe doing so—these policies are customer acquisition tools. The goal is to lessen purchase hesitation, avoid post-purchase surprises, and be as clear as possible. It should protect your business as much as it helps your buyer."

- Stephen Light, Co-Owner and Chief Executive Officer at Nolah Mattress

These policies detail which items are eligible for returns and how to complete the process.

Key factors of a strong return policy

While every small business has unique needs and circumstances, you should aim to address the following basic information in your return policy:

  • Item eligibility - If you only allow returns for certain products (and not others), state this unambiguously. 
  • Return window - Do you have a time limit after which customers will be unable to return their item? Do these time frames differ based on product type?
  • Item condition - What condition does the item need to be in for you to accept the return? Be clear about this to prevent customers from returning items they’ve damaged, broken, or worn.
  • Seller and buyer fees - Explain whether you provide completely free returns or whether buyers will need to pay shipping or restocking fees.
  • Reimbursement - Do you offer full or partial refunds? Is it a cash refund or a store credit gift card? Explain how you’ll reimburse customers and when they can expect to see the money or credit in their account.
  • Returns process - Explain how your returns process works and outline the exact steps customers need to take. Additionally, share timelines and how you process returns internally for more context.

Once shoppers read your return policy, there should be no confusion about how the process works or what they need to do to return an item.

Small business return policy template for ecommerce stores

Although the details will vary for your store, you can use this general template to check all the boxes for your return policy

Be sure to replace all information in brackets with your own details and elaborate where necessary:

If you aren’t 100% happy with your [brand] purchase, you can return [unopened items in their original packaging] within [90 days] of purchase for a [full refund]. To start the return process, [email returns@company.com], and we will [send you a prepaid return shipping label]. Please note [that all sale items are final]. [Five to 10 days] after we’ve received your item, we will issue a refund to [your original payment method].

Returns vs. warranties

One final note when considering the key factors of a return policy is whether you want to offer returns or warranties.

Returns and warranties are often interchangeable for merchants and buyers, but they’re distinctly different. 

For certain situations and business models, a returns program is the better choice, while a warranty fits best for others.

With returns, you allow buyers to send items back under certain conditions in exchange for a refund or store credit. Once they return the item, it turns into another form of currency, such as money.

With warranties, you allow buyers to send back items under certain conditions to have them fixed. When a shopper sends back an item under warranty, that same item is returned to them repaired and operational, rather than money or store credit.

Why are return policies so important?

Offering returns can be a hassle: They not only negate a conversion but may even cost your business more in shipping and reverse logistics management. 

So, why do 49% of retailers offer free return shipping?

illustration online return policy statistics

More than half of U.S. shoppers avoid buying from retailers that don’t offer free returns

Moreover, a positive returns experience influences consumers’ decision to repurchase from a brand in the future. 

Klarna found a whopping 84% of online shoppers would abandon a retailer following a poor returns experience.

That means a good return policy can affect your sales, buyer satisfaction, and customer retention.

With such high stakes on the line, let’s discuss some best practices to produce an effective return policy that protects your business and delights your customers.

8 best practices for how to write a return policy for ecommerce

Hopefully, we’ve convinced you of the importance of a good return policy and the elements it should cover. 

Now, we’ll cover some best practices for creating a comprehensive policy unique to your ecommerce business.

1. Make it easy to return a product

A returns program that’s too difficult to follow will agitate your buyers and discourage them from repurchasing.

Fifty-one percent of customers dissatisfied with a business’s return process stated it was too much work to return the package.

Reasons for disappointment in returns process chart
Image: Narvar

To mitigate frustration, make it as simple as possible to return an item.

Here are a few tips for facilitating a streamlined return:

  • Insert a link to your return policy in your website footer for easy discovery and access.
  • Include instructions and a quick link to return an item in your email delivery notification.
  • Set up an automated return system so a customer won’t have to wait for customer support to act once they trigger a return (more on this below).
  • Provide a return label to make it easy to send items back without having to look up addresses and other details.

Tip: If you provide return labels for every package, ensure your account is only charged for those used.

A simple returns process gives customers peace of mind when purchasing from your brand.

2. Automate returns with an RMA system

A return merchandise authorization (RMA) system is designed to help businesses manage returns. 

A good return management system benefits both you and your customers.

Customers submit a return form stating the reason for their return, and this information is used to generate a shipping label for the customer.

An RMA system can automate a large part of the returns process, enabling you to keep track of returns, add returned items into your inventory, and help you track the financial impact of all the returns your business has processed. 

Using an RMA speeds up the returns process and creates a better experience for your customers.

3. Help shoppers visualize your returns process

A lengthy return policy can intimidate shoppers, potentially turning them off your brand. 

It also opens up the possibility of customers misunderstanding your policy and procedure.

If a complex returns process is unavoidable, help buyers visualize the steps to give them a clearer picture. You want to make it as easy to understand as possible so they have no problem getting it out the door.

For example, you could illustrate the procedure with pictures or create a quick video outlining the details.

This will make it easier to digest and reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings and mistakes.

4. Provide multiple return options

Not all shoppers want to send back an item the same way they received it

In fact, 61% of shoppers prefer to return an item to a retail store instead of shipping it to the retailer’s warehouse.

how shoppers want to return online purchases chart
Image: SaleCycle

Some of the reasons this method is preferred include not wanting to pay for a return (58%), a faster return (53%), and the retail store being in a convenient location (41%).

reasons for returning products chart
Image: SaleCycle

For a smoother returns experience for your customers, offer them multiple return options, particularly if you have brick-and-mortar stores.

If you can’t accommodate this year-round, consider expanding your return options during the holiday season, as retailers expect 17.8% of merchandise sold in November and December to be returned.

5. Consider longer return windows

A short return window is a turnoff for most buyers. 

Today’s shoppers expect to have at least 30 days to make a return. If you restrict your time frame, you risk dissuading potential customers from shopping with you.

percent that think 30-day return policy is fair 53%
Image: Narvar

Try to give customers at least 30 days to return an item. If you can offer a longer return window like Target’s (see below), that’s even better for your customer experience.

target return policy text
Image: Target

Although this may result in longer record-keeping time frames, you also allow customers to grow more attached to their purchase

This can save conversions, making it well worth extending your return window.

6. Provide free returns

When shopping online, 79% of consumers state free returns are an important factor in their purchasing decisions.

what options are important to you when shopping online free shipping free returns top of list
Image: PowerReviews

Additionally, 62% of consumers said they would buy more from retailers that offer free returns, while 74% claim they actively avoid making purchases from retailers that don’t offer free return shipping.

Out of all the conditions listed in the average return policy, restocking and return shipping fees are the biggest reasons why shoppers decide not to buy from a retailer.

return policy elements preventing customers from purchasing restocking and return shipping fees at top
Image: Narvar

Charging customers for returns can contribute to a negative attitude toward your brand. They’ve already pulled out their credit card for this purchase, so it seems cruel that they do it again. 

Apart from losing unhappy customers, you’ll also forfeit any potential referrals they would send your way.

7. Consider providing a warranty instead of returns

According to a PowerReviews consumer survey, the second most common reason for a return is the item was damaged or defective.

reasons for returning online purchases in past chart
Image: PowerReviews

By offering a warranty instead of a return, you may be able to save the sale as long as you send a replacement or fix the original item.

If you choose to implement a warranty, you could keep returned items for parts to fix broken items that come back under warranty.

Also, consider whether you’ll require an item to be shipped back before providing a replacement or, if shipping is expensive, whether it makes sense to send a replacement upon photographic proof of the defect.

8. Avoid legal jargon and complex wording

Most shoppers lack the patience to read through a complicated or lengthy return policy, so your return policy isn’t the place to use complex terminology or legal jargon.

Even if you legally have to state the official policy somewhere, summarize a simplified process on your website so shoppers can grasp the gist of what your policy entails.

A concise webpage should include easy-to-skim highlights that explain the key factors of your return policy, such as return windows and which items are eligible for returns or warranties.

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How to structure your ecommerce return policy (with examples)

Your return policy details will depend on your specific circumstances, so we’ve broken this section down into questions you should answer before composing one. 

Feel free to incorporate only the questions relevant to your unique business model and products.

In order of descending priority, your ecommerce return policy should answer…

What items are eligible for returns?

If you have multiple product lines or sell across categories, only some of your products could be eligible for returns. 

Alternatively, you may only accept returns for items in a certain state, such as unused. If this is the case for your business, make it clear which items are eligible in your return policy.

tkees return and exchange policy text
Image: TKEES

The TKEES shipping and returns page states: 

“Please make sure the TKEES are unworn and in their original shoe bag with all merchandise tags attached. Keep in mind that monogrammed items and cotton masks are final sale and not eligible for return or exchange. Bundled items are only eligible for exchange.”

This policy makes it clear that only unworn shoes from the company’s main offerings are eligible for returns; customized items and cotton masks are ineligible.

How long do I have to return an item?

Your return policy should clearly state how long a customer has to return an item

You don’t want last year’s stock returning to your warehouses with customers expecting a refund on items you can no longer resell.

the ridge return policy page text
Image: The Ridge

The returns page from The Ridge shares their return window in the first sentence: 

“If you are not 100% satisfied with your Ridge wallet purchase, you can return your order to our warehouse for a refund or exchange within 45 days of purchase.”

This succinct sentence defines how long a customer has to make a return (45 days), under what conditions (not completely satisfied), and return options (refund or exchange).

What are my return options?

If you have multiple return options, such as dropping an item off at a retail location or scheduling a pickup, explain how they work.

ergonofis return policy instructions page text
Image: ergonofis

The ergonofis return policy has different options in place for returning an item. 

Depending on the type of product and whether a customer lives in a specific area, ergonofis will either schedule a pickup, or buyers can drop their items off at a courier location or an ergonofis office.

These return options give shoppers the choice to use their preferred return method, helping to make the process as convenient as possible.

How will I be refunded?

Your return policy should explain how customers can expect to receive their refund, including the mode of payment and any exceptional circumstances. 

For example, you may offer only partial refunds for certain items or store credit.

branch worry free return policy page text
Image: Branch

The Branch return policy states, 

“All refunds are transferred to the customer in the original form of payment, typically within 5-10 business days of our receipt of the returned furniture.”

This sentence conveys that the refund will come in the original mode of payment within five to 10 business days once the company has received the returned item.

Do I have to send the item back?

For some item categories, it makes sense to require a buyer to return the physical product before you consider a refund, while for others, it may not.

For example, if you sell jewelry, you’ll want the item back before you refund a customer. 

If you sell cookies, though, paying for shipping on items you won’t be able to sell again is an unnecessary expense.

pura return policy exchange policy page text
Image: Pura

Pura’s return policy clearly says: 

“Do not send back any fragrances, used or unused.”

Whether or not your store requires shoppers to send back an item to initiate a return, spell it out in your policy.

What state does the item have to be in?

Some return policies require items to be in a certain condition, such as unopened or unused. 

This prevents consumers from taking advantage of your return policy to “rent” items by buying with the intention of using them a few times, then sending them back.

allbirds return policy page text
Image: Allbirds

The Allbirds return policy is simple and straightforward, with only a few paragraphs. One of the critical things they highlight is: 

“You still have 30 days to mull [the apparel] over, but labels need to be intact. And for socks and undies, packaging must be unopened.”

This conveys that items need to be in a like-new state to be eligible for returns, and more intimate products must be unused.

How long do I have to wait for my refund?

Slow refunds are the most frustrating aspect of returns for 36% of consumers. 

This waiting period feels even longer when your shoppers are left in the dark about how long it’ll take.

Your return policy should explain when a refund will be processed (upon request or once an item is returned), how long it’ll take, and how the customer can expect to receive their refund.

Even if your returns process is longer, explaining each step and the estimated timeline in detail will give customers more peace of mind. 

You don’t want them anxiously waiting for their refunds while emailing customer support and eating up additional team bandwidth.

returns and exchanges policy page pangaia
Image: PANGAIA

The PANGAIA return policy summarizes the steps a customer needs to follow to make a return, along with estimated timelines. 

Their policy states: 

“Once your return has arrived at our warehouse, our team will then check that the items are in their original condition*. This process typically takes 5-10 business days…. Once your return is accepted, a refund will be issued. Funds can take 5-10 business days to appear in the account of your original payment method.”

This gives buyers a general idea of the process’s time frame and helps set expectations of how long each step will take, from checking an item’s condition (five to 10 business days) to issuing a refund (also five to 10 business days). 

It also expresses how the refund will land (via the original payment method).

What are my delivery options?

Your return policy should explain customers’ return delivery options

For example, will they have to pay for shipping? Can they return an item at a nearby retail store? Can your brand pick up from their home in the case of bulky items like mattresses?

chubbies free exchanges free shipping return policy page
Image: Chubbies

Right off the bat, the Chubbies returns and exchanges page highlights that they cover shipping for returns. 

The top banner shows “Free Shipping” and “Free Exchanges” to call out the benefit immediately, then goes into more detail, saying the company will provide a pre-paid USPS return label.

This further clarifies how the process works and customers’ different logistical options.

What are the limitations on returns?

Will you place any limitations or restrictions on returned items? 

For example, are sale items eligible, or will you accept returns only after a specific period of time?

leesa mattress return policy page text
Image: Leesa

The Leesa return policy includes an interesting clause in it that states, 

“You are required to try your mattress for at least 30 nights (which starts the day it’s delivered).”

The purpose of this minimum trial period is to help the body adjust to the new mattress so customers can get used to it. 

If, after 30 days, the buyer still wants to initiate a refund, the Leesa team will pick up the mattress from their home and send a refund.

If you have any unique requirements for items to be eligible for return, highlight them in your return policy.

Ecommerce return policy FAQs

Finally, let’s cover a few recurring questions concerning return policies.

Should online stores offer refunds?

The simplest and most common answer to this is a resounding yes.

If you don’t offer refunds or your business model doesn’t accommodate them (such as with undergarments or perishables for sanitary and quality reasons), consider at least providing some form of warranty, store credit, or exchange program instead.

How long should a return window be?

If your business model supports it, aim for at least a 30-day return window.

This may not be possible if you sell perishable items, however. Also, you may be unable to offer that long of a time frame for all situations, such as with international purchases.

Who should cover return shipping?

Consumers and merchants alike debate whether shipping should be included in a return and who should shoulder the return shipping fees and expenses.

Ultimately, this depends on your business’s profitability and margins, but free returns wield considerable influence over a customer’s purchase decision. 

If you can afford it, we suggest offering free returns to your buyers.

A seamless ecommerce return policy = happier customers

Returns are not your enemy. 

In fact, having a good return policy can benefit your business in many ways, from improved conversions to higher customer retention.

By crafting a clear and comprehensive return policy, you reassure customers about their purchase while protecting your business and bottom line.

Follow the best practices and templates above to produce an ecommerce return policy that checks all the boxes and fills your customers with confidence.

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Rachel Go

Rachel is a remote marketing manager with a background in building scalable content engines. She creates content that wins customers for B2B eCommerce companies like MyFBAPrep, Flxpoint, Shogun, and more. In the past, she has scaled organic acquisition efforts for companies like Deliverr, Skubana, and Pipe17.