As a retailer, you might be tempted to try and eliminate returns altogether by making customers jump through hoops. Returns are a necessary evil in retail and they can be a costly part of doing business. The National Retail Federation found that customers in the U.S. returned about $351 billion worth of items that they had purchased from both brick-and-mortar retailers and online stores in 2017. Additionally, return deliveries are estimated to cost $550 billion in the U.S. by 2020 – which is 75.2% more than just four years before. When it comes to ecommerce returns, it shows they’re growing even faster…increasing 94.8% over the most recently measured five-year period.

However, customers aren’t likely to trust an online retailer that makes the process difficult and doesn’t offer an easy way to return purchases that don’t fit, arrive damaged, or just aren’t quite what they expected. In other words, buyers need to trust the retailer — and that can start by adopting simple, transparent, and generous return policies that inspire confidence and trust in consumers.

Make Your Policy Simple and Easily Accessible

Many return policies look like contracts with fine print and complex terms. The harder you make it for a shopper to understand your policy, the harder it is for them to trust your brand. Use simple language and try not to make it any more complicated than it has to be.

Place a link to your returns policy right under your “add to cart” button and add your policy to confirmation emails on purchases. Adding a clean, short, and simple policy that can be understood in less than one minute will inspire more trust from shoppers. This also lets those who have already bought your products know that you’re dedicated to making sure they like their product, and that if they don’t – they can always return it.

Don't Make Demands

If someone is reading your policy, they’re reading it because they want to buy a product from you and put their trust in what you’re selling. One of the quickest way to negate your efforts is by using phrases like “you must” and “you are required” or even “we are not responsible for.” While you want to make your policy clear, this type of language can scare people off and make it sound like you’re refusing to help them after they’ve given you your money. Instead, make it easy for customers. Around 96% of customers who have high-effort experiences don’t become repeat purchasers, compared with only 9% of those with low-effort experiences. This applies to everything from the language you use, the browsing and checkout experience, to shipping and returns.

Set Expectations for the Customer

You don’t want a confused customer, so make the process of returns understandable and straightforward. Outline the specific process and guidelines and proactively answer questions like:

  • What's the procedure for a return or exchange?
  • Do customers need to use your packaging or can they use their own?
  • Does the order slip need to be included?
  • Is there a limited time for returns or exchanges?
  • Who pays for shipping?
  • Can they receive store credit for a future purchase, or do they get their money back?

By putting these answers front and center, you will eliminate a lot of confusion for both you and the customer.

Offer Flexibility and Choice

If there’s one things shoppers want, it’s the freedom of choice. This is especially true when it comes to returns, where they’ve come to expect refunds in the form of their choosing. Instead of limiting their options, give them the freedom and flexibility to choose from things like:

  • Reordering and receiving a new item that has a similar price.
  • Getting their original payment back in the form of a refund
  • Receiving store credit or a gift card that can later be used to purchase something from you

It's advisable to offer gift cards or store credit as the most appealing solution, as it allows you to keep the money in your store, whereas a cash refund means they have the option to click on another site and spend the money. 

Be Flexible, Get Feedback, and Optimize

Given that 89% of repeat customers who have a good return experience are likely to buy again, it’s worth finding out what kind of returns experience customers are looking for. The best way to create an online return policy that customers will appreciate is to get their feedback. Your policy doesn’t have to be static. Instead, think of it as something that can be adjusted for the benefit of both you and your customer.

Send out an online survey asking for feedback on your return policy and try to identify any friction that exists and how you can improve. Focus on two or three of the main points until you’ve optimized the return process. Customers will feel that their opinions are valued — because they are — and trust that you’re looking out for their best interests.  

89% of repeat customers who have a good return experience are likely to buy again.

The Final Word

In the end, a successful online return policy is good for both the retailer and the customer. You have a chance to build trust, which builds a relationship in which everyone benefits. 

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By Nicole Leinbach Reyhle of Select images courtesy of