Shipping & Fulfillment

7 Elements of a Return Policy That Sells

Merchants give so much thought into making the sale that they tend to forget some of the post-sale components that savvy shoppers look for first. One of these is the returns policy — that page of text that explains to shoppers what they can do if they don’t like their purchase. According to comScore, the returns process is the number one reason brick-and-mortar shoppers don’t buy online.

The return policy should do more than just tell customers how to send back a product if it doesn’t fit. Formatted and conveyed properly, it can be a valuable conversion tool.

The typical return policy contains text that explains everything that can or cannot be sent back, as well as lots of legal jargon that complicates the process. Today, though, even Amazon has simplified its policy to make it easy to understand and use.

When devising or simplifying your company’s return policy, consider the following.

7 Elements of a Return Policy

Clear communication. No one wants to read something that requires a lawyer to decifer. The policy needs to be simply worded and easy to understand. Be clear about what can be returned, and, possibly, for what reasons. Use bullet points to explain the process from start to end. If there are any items that cannot be returned, explain why.

List all imperative info, such as:

  • What can be returned and in what condition.
  • How long they have to return an item — rely on the return ship-by-date rather than a must-be-received-by-merchant date.
  • Who pays for return shipping.
  • How quickly returns are processed.
  • How money is refunded — i.e., check, credit card, store credit.

Clarity about who pays for shipping and what can be returned.

Use simple terms to explain what can be returned, who pays for shipping, and how items are to be sent back to the retailer. Source: Van Halen Store.

Convey convenience. Shopping online is often more convenient than visiting a brick-and-mortar store. Shoppers want the same convenience when something doesn’t work for them. According the aforementioned comScore study, more than 60 percent of online shoppers either want a return label included in the box or the ability to print one on the fly.

Cost matters. If a customer receives the wrong product or a damaged item, he should never have to pay return shipping. Others should have the choice to return the product affordably, even if it means slower transit. Most consumers view restocking fees as punishment, so try to avoid implementing them. Ideally, consumers would rather not pay return shipping costs at all, but many understand this is not always feasible.

Amazon offers flexible return shipping methods.

Amazon offers both pre-paid and buyer-paid return shipping options.

Be flexible. People are busy. Not everyone opens packages to inspect contents the same day they are received. Sometimes people need to rethink their purchase. Shoppers have come to expect at least 30 days to return an item, and longer return deadlines are a bonus.

Don’t hold the money. Once the return is received, it should be inspected and processed quickly. Explain how quickly the shopper can expect to receive credit.

Don’t be greedy. To be sure, some items, like custom-made and specialty products, lose significant value when returned. But strict policies on generic items can be costing you big sales. Imposing fees for the return of a pair of brand-name jeans that don’t fit is bad for business. Terms that trigger distrust include “restock fee,” “we cannot be held responsible,” “less any shipping charges,” and any “MUST” directives in all caps or bold or red text.

Reconsider RMAs. Granted, a return merchandise authorization makes the returns process easier for the seller. Most order processing systems have the ability to generate and track unique RMA numbers that directly reference the order number and reason for return. Unfortunately, forcing customers to obtain an RMA is another step they have to take, which can be time consuming. Requiring an RMA for a return can be costing you sales, especially if you use BOLD CAPS to convey this info.

Amazon makes it convenient to return products by automatically including an RMA when a customer prints a return label.

Amazon makes it convenient to return products by automatically including an RMA when a customer prints a return label.

The Returns Page

Just like any other web page, the returns and exchanges section should be visually appealing. By using short sentences, bullet points, icons, and graphics, you can better convey a hassle-free experience. A convenient return policy helps shoppers focus less on prices and more on quality.

Include on the returns-policy page links to online chat and contact forms. For current shopping sessions, these can help people make better decisions, and can help cancel out the need for a return. For example, troubleshooting an electronic device could lead to the realization that the customer inserted the batteries incorrectly. Lastly, you’ll have the option to offer a discount on products you’d rather not be returned.

By treating the returns policy as both a customer support and conversion tool, you can increase overall trust, sales, and customer loyalty.


Pamela Hazelton
Pamela Hazelton
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