Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every sale you made was a homerun? Unfortunately, that’s not always realistic. Returns, exchanges and refunds aren’t the most glamorous part of eCommerce, but they’re unavoidable.

From defective or damaged products and buyer fraud, to false advertisement and inadequate size guides, there are many reasons customers may want to return goods. And while it would be easy to receive, pack and ship an order and then never think about it again, it’s wise to recognize some of those issues are bound to come up at one point or another.

Without a thorough, clearly written policy, handling return requests from dissatisfied customers can eat up time and resources, put a lot of pressure on your customer service team and result in unexpected shipping costs that ultimately shrink your profit margins. But you don’t have to go on your own. Services like Easyship can help with an easily customizable small business return policy template.

In the following article, we delve into the ins and outs of transforming a return policy template into something bespoke: why it’s important, what it requires, the steps you should take to write one and how Easyship can help you do so.

Resource: A Seller's Guide to eCommerce Domestic Shipping  
Customer at a store listening to Store Return Policy
Photo by Christiann Koepke 

What is an eCommerce Return Policy?

A return policy is a written document that stipulates, clearly and in detail, the process your eCommerce business follows when accepting and processing returns or issuing refunds and exchanges. It sets conditions, timeframes, any associate processing fees and the procedure that customers should follow when initiating an online return.

It should function like a two-way street. A return policy sets the guidelines for both your customers and staff so that they can follow a consistent process when initiating or handling returns. A great return policy should balance keeping customers happy and satisfied and protecting your business from being scammed by return fraud. It is also clear to understand. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. That’s why tools like  return policy templates are so helpful — especially for small and mid-size businesses that are just starting out.

Why Return Policies are Important for Customers and Businesses?

Running an eCommerce business without a customer friendly return policy can be detrimental. Though you may be tempted to ignore putting an elaborate return policy in place, this leaves your customers to fend for themselves. Such a move can damage the reputation of your business — and cost you a lot of business in the long-run.

Here are six reasons why having a return policy is a win-win for customers and businesses alike:

  • Establish trust: When shopping online, customers have no way to physically interact with your merchandise. A customer may order the wrong size, fit or pattern due to misunderstanding and poor product photos.  Shoppers won't trust you if you don't commit to stand by your products or services and accept returns or offer refunds and exchanges in the event a product doesn't meet expectations.
  • Inspire buyer confidence: You could be turning customers away if you don't have a return policy for your e-store. 49% of shoppers report actively looking through a business's return policy before making a purchase, while 55% of customers shy away from shopping in a store with inflexible return policies.
  • Encourages repeat purchases: Having a return policy that enables your business to handle the return process professionally results in a pleasant post-purchase experience that earns you customer loyalty — even if the shopper wasn't satisfied with their original purchase. It pays off: 97% of customers report a strong likelihood to continue shopping with a retailer after a positive return experience.
  • Keeps fraudsters at bay: Fraudsters are always on the lookout to abuse your store's return policy. Ensuring that your refund policy is foolproof with a clear stipulation on what can or cannot be returned, and the timeframe within which returns are accepted goes a long way to cushion your business against returns fraud and abuse.
  • Reduce costs: Having a comprehensive return policy can help you reduce both the time and resources  that go into processing returns in your e-store. For example, if you don't have a clear refund policy, buyers will put a lot of pressure on customer support through email or phone calls. This can be costly and time-consuming.
  • Protect your business’s reputation: Having an easy and hassle-free return policy will protect your business's reputation. If you handle the return process graciously, you can avoid bad reviews and social media callouts that can damage your business's reputation. Keep in mind that 66% of shoppers trust consumer reviews and opinions posted online. If consumers share positive experiences via word-of-mouth recommendations via social media or positive reviews, your business benefits from free marketing.

What are the Requirements for a Great Return Policy?

As an eCommerce merchant, you should realize that a great return policy can turn out to be a great marketing strategy. There is a reason you see savvy online retailers advertising easy and hassle-free returns, exchanges and refunds. It’s a selling point.

A great return policy should describe the entire return process, your allowances and limits on returns and the different ways you have in place to refund buyers.

Here are some things you should always include, whether you are drafting a policy from scratch or are using a return policy template:

  • Timeframe: How long do your customers have to initiate a return? Is it after 30 or 60 days? Make sure you state this clearly in your policy. If you don't, customers can send back products to you after months or years of using them. Many businesses have suffered losses due to entertaining and open-ended return policy.
  • Define acceptable conditions: Make sure you nail down the conditions a product must meet for your business to process the return. Here, you want to make sure that you only process returns that arise due to the customer being unhappy with the product or the product being defective — not products being damaged or otherwise devalued by the buyer.
  • Stipulate all requirements clearly: Do you want products to be sent unopened or in their original packaging? Does the customer need an authorization number or purchase slip? Who pays for the shipping or restocking costs, you or the buyer? Whatever conditions you may have for processing returns, you should make sure that they are clearly stated so that your customers know upfront what to expect.
  • Choose compensation methods: How will you compensate your customers when they return a product? Most retailers opt for either a full refund, store credit, or an exchange. Giving your customers the ability to choose among the three options can be great. But sometimes this may not be possible, so it is good to be transparent about compensation methods, stating the circumstances wherein each method applies.
  • State when items are final-sale: If you have products in your store that are "final sale", make sure that you show them as non-returnable, non-refundable or non-exchangeable in the refund policy.
  • Return process: Customers should know how to initiate the return process. It should be clearly stated in your policy — whether they need to send an email, visit a web page and fill a form or contact your customer support via phone.
Related: 12 Tips to Reduce Holiday eCommerce Returns

eCommerce Return Policy Example

Let’s look at a return policy example. We’ll look at policies used by big box companies that you can use as a small business return policy template for your own operation.

For a widely regarded return example, we’ll take a look at a potion of Walmart’s extensive policy.

"We are happy to help. Not 100% satisfied with your item? We will make it right. To exchange or return an item, here is what you need to know:
You have 90 days after purchase to exchange or return, unless noted in our exceptions. You can return items in-store, for free by mail, or via a scheduled pickup from your home. Please provide your in-store receipt or Walmart.com order number and we will refund the purchase price and applicable taxes and fees to the original form of payment or provide a replacement."
Most items purchased at Walmart.com can be returned for free by mail.
To return an item by mail if you have an account:
View your order history in the Walmart app or at Walmart.com.
Locate the item(s) you’d like to return.
NOTE: Only items from the same order can be processed in the same return. Multiple items from multiple orders will need to be processed separately.
Select “Return” or “Replace” for each item and provide a reason for the return.
Select “Return by mail” to print your return label.
Package the item(s) along with all original packaging and accessories, then drop it off at USPS or FedEx locations.
For larger items, you will be prompted with the option to arrange a pickup at your home.
You’ll receive a refund or replacement once we receive the item.
Q: How do I replace or exchange an item?
Follow the same instructions as for returns, except select “Replace” instead of “Return” for each item you’d like to exchange. In most cases, an item can be replaced with the same one as originally ordered. In a few cases, you will be able to exchange the item for a variant of that item (e.g., a different size or color).
Q: How will I be refunded?
If you made the purchase using a:
Credit or debit card, the refund will appear as a credit back on that credit or debit card within seven to ten (7—10) calendar days.
Gift card:
If you start your return in the app or online, the refund will be put back on the original gift card immediately once the return is complete and the item is received by the warehouse (return by mail).
NOTE: Keep the gift card until you are sure you’re keeping all the items you purchased using that gift card.
If you purchased an item at Walmart.com but paid for it in-store (transaction known as “pay with cash”), you can only get a refund at a Walmart store. The customer service desk will be able to assist you with a refund.
Q: What do I do if my item is damaged or is the wrong item?
If the item was purchased online and is damaged or the wrong item, return the item by mail. Start the returns process on the Walmart app, in your order history at Walmart.com, or at Walmart.com/account/trackorder. Select the items to return and the reason for the return and request either a refund or a replacement. A damaged or wrong item purchased online cannot be returned in store.

To read more of the real-world example return policy, head to Walmart’s website.

How to Write a Good Return Policy in 6 Steps

writing an eCommerce return policy
Photo by Nick Morrison 

A clear, well-written return policy is not only excellent for reassuring your buyers, but also helps reduce time and resources spent processing returns, exchanges and refunds by your staff. Here are the steps you should take to nail down a refund policy that drives sales, wins customer loyalty and encourages repeat purchases. The following is an ideological return policy template or guideline.

1.Understand the purpose of your refund policy

The first step in writing a winning return policy is to understand the purpose you want it to serve. It may turn out that your return policy will be the most read page on your site!

Be savvy enough to use this document to showcase your business values, brand voice and all the good things that your business stands for.

The best way to go about it is to stop thinking of your return policy as a document that loses your business money, and think of it as a killer, long-term investment strategy to win customer loyalty, earn repeat purchases and showcase your business values.

2.Keep it easy to understand

The golden rule here is to use simple language that is direct to the point. Don’t be tempted by wandering into technical jargon that’s hard to interpret. This will confuse your customers and result in increased service requests to your customer success department. Stick to what’s in your return policy template.

To avoid all this, write your return policy as you might explain it to a friend — in your brand’s voice, of course! This keeps things simple and will give your refund policy a bit of personality. Above all else clear, concise terms that customers can relate to without the need for interpretation.

3.Disclose all the conditions and set clear expectations

Don't surprise your customers with unexpected fees. Make sure that your return policy is elaborate and clearly defines all the conditions and fees associated with the return process.

For example, it should be clear who pays the costs of shipping back the product and restocking it. But be warned: Asking your customers to pay for shipping and restocking fees is often viewed disheartening and will turn shoppers away. But if you decide to place this burden on your shoppers, make sure that you state it clearly in your return policy.

If you don't set your buyers' expectations upfront in your refund policy, they will be upset and won’t hesitate to leave negative reviews or damaging comments on social media.

4. Set the returns window clearly

When writing your return policy, you want to make sure that you nail down the timeframes within which items can be returned. Generally speaking, 30 to 90 days is ideal for most businesses, but you may need to widen the return window if you are dealing with big-ticket items, like computers, stationary bikes or beds.

Make sure you strike the balance between giving your customers enough time so they feel at ease making the purchase. That said, you also want to be careful to protect your business from return fraud and abuse carried out by shoppers who purchase an item, use it for a while and initiate a return afterward.

5. Make your return process effortless

Keep in mind that a crucial majority of 96% of customers won't shop in your store again if they feel your return process is negative — meaning it requires a lot of money and work on their end. Make sure that your entire policy is in writing — from how to initiate a return to the timeframe within which a refund or exchange should be expected. This is why it’s best to read return policy examples before drafting your own — so nothing gets left out inadvertently.

One way to alleviate the stress is to let your customers know you have a tracking system in place to track returns, and don't wait for the buyer to call or email to inquire about whether the return has arrived. Inform them when you receive the item, process the return, and send out a replacement or a refund.

6.Surface and promote your return policy

Having a return policy that remains in obscurity is just as bad as not having one at all. This can spell doom to the whole of your return process because nobody will see it. As far as the average shopper is concerned, if it isn't visible, it doesn't exist.

Instead, surface it from those remote unlinked web pages and include it in popular pages where buyers can see it. The footer of your home page is a popular spot to begin. Featuring it in the checkout process and on product pages is also a good move to make sure that the buyer doesn't miss it.

But don't stop there! Go ahead and include a printed copy of your return policy with every package you ship. Also feature it in the purchase confirmation email you send to your buyers after completing a purchase.

Inspire Customer Confidence with an eCommerce Return Policy

You can build trust, inspire buyer confidence, encourage repeat purchases and protect your business from return and refund scams by having an elaborate and well-thought-out return policy for your eCommerce store.

Remember that a shipping policy and a return policy can be used as great marketing documents orf your business. Taking advantage of both will not only help you drive sales but also keep your buyers satisfied. Here at Easyship, we have developed a shipping policy generator that you can use to generate a return policy template for your eCommerce store just in minutes.

Sign up for a free Easyship account today to get started!

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