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How to Write an Ecommerce Returns Policy That'll Skyrocket Sales

Peter Sobotta
Updated 06/19/20 8:09 PM

Ecommerce Returns Policy:

An ecommerce returns policy covers the rules for what can be returned & exchanged so all customers are treated fairly. They typically include the return window, supported return types, accepted return conditions, and who is responsible for return shipping.

How to create the best ecommerce returns policy to boost sales & reduce returns

When you're navigating your retail brand through the enormous world of ecommerce, sometimes things slip through the cracks. Often times your ecommerce returns policy is one of those things.

Your returns policy isn't the most attractive thing that pops up when you think about your ecommerce business.

What if instead of being a pesky reminder that product returns still exist, your returns policy could help retain customers and even drive sales? 

Now we're talking! But aren't product returns bad for business? How could they possibly help my bottom line?

Two words: Customer Experience.

In this post we're going to walk through the process of creating an ecommerce returns policy that helps convert browsers into customer and retain hard-won customers as loyal shoppers.

Table of Contents: 

  1. Returns Policy Overview and Infographic
  2. Make Your Return Policy Easy to Find
  3. Use Easy to Understand Language
  4. Offer Free Return Shipping
  5. Set Clear Guidelines for What Can be Returned
  6. Create a Returns & Exchanges FAQ Page
  7. Personalize Your Returns Policy
  8. Adopt a More Liberal Returns Policy
  9. Engage Shoppers Making a Return
  10. Illustrate The Hassle Free Returns Process

 

ecommerce-return-policy-infographic

How Your Ecommerce Returns Policy Sets the Stage for Lifetime Customers

Happy customers play in huge role in the life of a healthy business. Happy customers are not only returning customers, but they're also promoters of your brand, completely immersed in the value your products provide to them. 

Your returns policy is a major factor in the buyer's journey, and ultimately contributes to how satisfied a consumer is with your brand.

Having a strong ecommerce returns policy is one of the first steps in generating a positive customer experience. If your customer can have a hassle-free interaction with your business by looking at your returns policy, you've passively removed their pre-purchase anxiety.

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Viewing Your Ecommerce Return Policy as a Customer Acquisition Engine:

Thanks to a consumer oriented returns policy, a customer previously on the fence gains some reassurance to complete an order.

Then after the order has been made, one of three things happen:

  1. The product the received aligns with the customer's expectations and they are satisfied.
  2. Something went wrong and they keep the product.
  3. Something went wrong and they begin the return process.

It's obvious the first is the preferred result. Followed by the third. 

The scariest outcome for an ecommerce retailer is case number two. Here you have a unsatisfied shopper, but you're left in the dark. This is typically the result of a complex return process. Not only will this unsatisfied customer likely never purchase from your store again, they're going to tell their friends, too. 

A product return signifies a disappointed customer, but there is a positive side to this story. You're able to identify the shoppers who are experiencing friction. This gives you the power to turn this negative experience into a positive experience, one that they're excited to share with their friends.

By leveraging an ecommerce returns policy powered by the customer experience, each product return becomes an opportunity to impress the customer and convert them into a lifetime buyer.

With a smart ecommerce returns policy your customer will receive a seamless product return experience that translates into trust, quality, and efficiency in the eyes of the shopper — all major contributors of customer loyalty.

By following this 9-step guide to optimizing your ecommerce returns policy, you'll be able to drive in more sales, earn more lifetime customers, and improve your bottom line.

2. Make Your Return Policy Easy to Find

Consumers today want to feel confident before they're ready to hand over their hard earned cash. During their research, 66% of online shoppers review a store's returns policy before committing to a purchase.

With this many consumers doing pre-purchase research, it's important to make your return policy easy to find and filled with value for the shopper.

Return Policy Placement

Too many online retailers shove their returns policy statement under a pile of complicated terms and conditions that are only accessible through a vague link on the footer of their site.

Consumers are shopping online to save time, so you can guarantee they won't be playing detective.

SheFit is a great example of a retailer that highlights their returns policy in the sales process. They feature a preview of their Return & Exchange process right on the product page so shoppers can easily see all the ecommerce returns policy details.

ecommerce-return-policy-example-shefit

The Reset highlights the ease of their returns process in the forefront of their marketing material.

ecommerce-return-policy-example-the-reset

Anaono does the same, leveraging hassle-free returns and exchanges right at the top of their homepage. 

ecommerce-return-policy-example-anaono

Here's where we recommend you include your returns policy for maximum visibility:

  1. On Your Product Page: This placement will help encourage the sale of a product by allowing the customer to keep the product in mind while they review your policy. Having easy access to the returns policy will persuade the consumer to make the purchase.
  2. On Your Home Page: Place a link to your returns policy in an  accessible location on your site's homepage, consumers are usually looking for a dedicated tab or link in the footer.
  3. During Checkout: It might seem counterproductive, but including a link to your ecommerce returns policy in your checkout cart will encourage the customer to take the final step. Not only will including your returns policy during the final stage of purchase help reduce cart abandonment, it will also reaffirm your brand's integrity.
  4. Confirmation Email: Placement of your store's return policy in the order confirmation email serves as the final reminder to the customer that your main priority is the customer's satisfaction, and you're willing to give them a hassle free  returns experience if they're not satisfied.

3. Use Easy to Understand Language

Often times consumers are faced with complicated legalese when reading a retailer's policies. Consumers don't want to exert any effort into decoding your complicated statements, so they'll just move onto the next retailer. 

To make sure consumers can purchase from your store with peace of mind. Write your ecommerce returns policy with a conversational and friendly tone. 

Jon Josef does a great job of keeping their return policy simple and to the point. For shoppers that have more questions, they link to their FAQ and Contact pages.

ecommerce-returns-policy-example-jon-josef

Avoid using authoritative language that commands or tells the customer what to do, you want to make the ecommerce returns process as pain free as possible.

Peepers.com uses a simple 3-steps process to illustrate how easy returns are for their shoppers. 

ecommerce-return-policy-example-peepers

Understanding the return process prior to making a purchase gives the shopper additional confidence they'll have a good customer experience.

4. Provide Free Return Shipping

Offering free return shipping is a marketing tool to over come pre-purchase anxiety.

The cost of providing free return shipping should be viewed in the context of the overall cost to acquire a customer.

If a shopper takes you up on the offer of free return shopping, it is simply another opportunity to reengage them. If it costs $125 to acquire a customer, spending $7 for a return shipping label to retain that customer shouldn't be a deal. It isn't just an expense, it's an investment in the future lifetime value of that shopper.

While there are arguments both for and against free returns shipping, the truth of the matter is customers already feel that returning a product is too much effort.

By incorporating free returns into your policy, you're giving customers reassurance that they won't be dealing with the extra hassle of shipping cost.

5. Set Clear Guidelines for What Can be Returned

Make sure your customers fully understand the details of your returns policy so the returns process can be handled quickly and effectively.

Return Policy

Laying out clear guidelines also sets limits to what your customers can returnand how that return will work.

>Every good ecommerce returns policy is composed of the following elements:

Return Window: 

The period in which your store accepts a product return, and when the customer can expect a refund. Depending on the product itself and any seasonal events or holidays that occur, you might want to vary this interval. 

Provide a clear number of days that you will allow your consumers to return a product. Specify the number of days in which your consumers will receive the refund.

Return Conditions: 

Determine the terms for a valid return. There are various factors that you may need to look at including:

  • Packaging of an Item
  • Where the Item was Purchased
  • Hygiene Considerations

Reimbursement Options and Attached Fees: Address all the refund options your customers have for their product return.

  • Can consumers receive store credit, or exchange an item?
  • List all the attached fees for an item, and explain why they occur.
  • Think carefully about any deductions and fees that are a part of the returns process, not all transactions are immediately apparent.
  • Will international orders translate into different fees?

Groove Life does a great job setting shopper expectations on the finer details of how the return conditions impact the return policy.

ecommerce-returns-policy-example-groove-rings

By clearly setting the boundaries for your product returns policy, you're giving customers clear expectations of your returns process and protecting yourself from return fraud.

6. Create a Returns & Exchanges FAQ Page

Some ecommerce brands have FAQ pages dedicated to their products and stories — why not apply the same methodology to explain your returns process?

Shopping online is all about saving time and money. Answers to common questions about your ecommerce returns policy should be easy to find.

Enso Rings does a good job of keeping answers to common questions simple and concise.

Ecommerce Returns Policy Example from Enso Rings

Retailers can be acrobatic with their product returns by answering questions in regards to specific products.

Jolyn uses a nesting FAQ page to help their shoppers quickly find the answers they're looking for without scrolling over miles and miles of text.

ecommerce-returns-policy-example-jolyn

Incorporating returns into your FAQ page can steer customers towards finding answers that might save the sale, so remember to include any help documentation, tips, and general guidelines to help consumers get the most out of the product they've ordered.

If you have different returns policies for online, pop-ups, in-store, and marketplace purchases, be sure to address that in your Returns & Exchanges FAQ area.

7. Make Your Returns Policy Skim-able

Use your brand identity and voice to make your returns policy interesting and creative. The key idea is to separate the pain of a product return from the positive customer experience your business is trying to provide.

By phasing in your company branding into a returns policy you're allowing the customer to become comfortable with the return process, which is paramount when you consider that a vast majority of consumers will consider purchasing from a retailer again if they are happy with the returns policy.

Get creative when building your ecommerce returns policy by using photos, infographics, and even video.

This makes things more interesting and consumable for the customer— which factors into their decision when they think about purchasing from your store again.

AdoreMe illustrates the value of their return policies with icons and simple text to give the shoppers the confidence they need to move forward with the purchase.

ecommerce-returns-policy-example-adoreme

You don't need to be a graphic designer to make this work. Use a tool like Canva to create a fun graphic that highlights the main value props inside your returns policy. It's another touch point you can use to build connection with your shoppers.

8. Adopt a More Liberal Returns Policy

Shoppers are persuaded to purchase a product if they know they can return it later. This behavior translates into an increase in product sales.

While more sales are great, retailers still need to craft a returns policy that will prevent those sales from turning into returns.

The obvious action would be to tighten up your returns policy, right? Wrong, a more lenient returns policy can actually prevent product returns.

Lengthening The Time Frame for Your Returns Policy

According to research conducted by Narayanan Janakiraman, an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of Texas:

Finding the Optimal Time Frame

Many retailers opt for a standard 30 day returns policy. While that interval provides customers with enough time to return a product, it doesn't come with the aforementioned benefits of a truly liberal returns policy.

Retailers should take advantage of the endowment effect and consider increasing their returns window to 60 to 90 days. 

This must be balanced with the increased return liability you'll assume by lengthening your returns windows. 

While there is no magic number for your returns time frame, lengthening the time a shopper can spend with the product can have an impact of reducing your return rate.

9. Engage Shoppers Making a Return

Product returns damage the customer experience, and while providing a seamless and hassle free return interaction will get retailers back on good terms with consumers, there still is no promise of returning consumers.

Jon Stern from Retention Rocket thinks retailers need to be proactive when considering the customer experience after every return. 

ecommerce-returns-retention-marketing

Proactive engagement will show the customer how much you value you their business.

  • Make sure to acknowledge the dissatisfaction the consumer endured.
  • Subtly emphasize that you would appreciate them shopping with your store again

Noah Singer from Drip follows suit when talking about returns that resulted from product quality issues:

ecommerce-returns-process-insight-noah-singer-drip

Not only does a thank you message show the consumer how much a retailer values their business, but it also opens up a new sales opportunity. By leveraging some data and buying trends that retailers collect about their consumers, the possibility of using incentives to reclaim a consumer arises.

Along with your thank you message, include a discount towards the consumers next purchase. Some retailers are smart about their returns collection and have return reason codes attached to an order. By looking at the reason for a return, retailers might be able to offer a smarter discount.

Consumers generally gloss over answering disruptive survey questions, so by thanking a consumer for a return, they will be much more receptive to providing valuable feedback, which you can use to increase sales and reduce returns.

9. Visualize Your Hassle Free Returns Process

Amazon has trained consumers to expect easy and hassle free returns. Shopify retailers need to present their returns process in a similar fashion

Consider creating a short product return guide to include within your policy. When a consumer can visualize the ease of a return, they will be more receptive to the idea of actually having to return the product, and therefore will continue the sale.

Allbirds uses icons and graphics to clearly visualize what the shopper can expect in the returns process.

ecommerce-returns-policy-example-all-birds

Emphasize a quick hassle free experience. 

Consumers will trust your business more if you can simplify a process and it explain it to them.

Key Takeaways:

By revamping your ecommerce returns policy and modifying it to be more customer-centric, you can drive sales and convert disappointed customers to lifetime buyers.

Retailers need to combine their customer-centric return policies, with their logistics operations, marketing efforts, and sales forces to fully take advantage of a product return.

That is the goal of returns management solutions.

When crafting your new ecommerce returns policy, keep these key ideas in mind:

  1. Consumers look at your returns policy before they decide to make a purchase.
  2. Nearly two-thirds of consumers won't even consider ordering from a retailer if free returns are not offered. 
  3. Think of free return shopping in light of customer acquisition costs. This will frame it as an investment in the lifetime value of the shopper.
  4. Make your policy easy to consume so shoppers can quickly digest and understand the value.
  5. A good ecommerce returns policy will be liberal in nature, and protect against return fraud. When you achieve this balance, promote the value your returns policy offers them by making it easily accessible.
  6. Hassle free interactions are the key to a positive returns experience, one of your major goals is to provide an easy customer experience that will delight your best customers.

Your ecommerce returns policy should serve as a marketing asset to help convert a shopper overcome pre-purchase anxiety and become a paying customer.

If a customer takes you up on your offer to return a product, the process should be simple. Product returns signify a gap between a shopper's expectation and reality.

Each product return you receive is another touchpoint with a hard-won customer. Use this opportunity to turn a lost sale into a loyal customer.

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