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How To Write a Return Policy: The Basics & Requirements

Masha Komnenic CIPP/E, CIPM, CIPT, FIP

by Masha Komnenic CIPP/E, CIPM, CIPT, FIP

January 13, 2022

Generate a Return Policy
How_To_Write_a_Return_Policy

There is a good chance that one of your customers will eventually have to return a purchased item. A clear and straightforward return policy will give your customers a good experience when returning something and leave them with a satisfied opinion of your store.

In this article, you will learn how to write a return policy that is concise, effective, and makes sense to your customers.

Table of Contents
  1. What Is the Purpose of a Return Policy?
  2. Return Policy Solutions
  3. Common Questions to Answer in Your Return Policy
  4. What Your Return Policy Needs to Include
  5. What to Avoid in a Return Policy
  6. Tips for Writing a Good Return Policy
  7. Where to Display Your Return Policy
  8. Wrapping Up

What Is the Purpose of a Return Policy?

The purpose of a return policy is to outline the specific requirements as to how, when, and under what circumstances shoppers can return their purchased items. In addition, a return policy demonstrates that you care about your customers and their satisfaction with your goods and services.

An effective return policy helps protect your business from fraudulent returns while serving as a consistent process that makes sense to both you and your customers. It also makes you more legitimate and trustworthy in a customer’s eyes.

Return Policy Solutions

There are three methods available for creating a return policy. However, you need to be clear and direct; whether you make one yourself or use a managed solution or template.

Managed Solution (Recommended)

Return policies are often coupled with refund and exchange policies, which need to be detailed and transparent. If you need a comprehensive approach that is clear and easy to understand, build one for free with our refund and return policy generator.

Regardless of your business’s size, type, platform, or location, simply answer a few questions to generate a return and refund policy.

Use Termly to Save Time on Your Return Policy

Here’s how you can use Termly’s generator to easily create a comprehensive return policy:

Step 1: Go to Termly’s return policy generator.

Step 2: Answer our prompts and questions, and go through all of the steps until you reach “Final Details.”

return-policy-generator-step-by-step

Step 3: Once you’ve filled in everything and you are satisfied with the preview, click “Publish.” You will then be prompted to create an account on Termly so you can save and edit your return policy further.

Template

Every business needs a well-written and comprehensive return policy. So, if you need some guidance while writing one, you can download our free return policy template.

DIY

You can do it yourself and write a return policy specific to your business using the information provided in this guide. However, this is the hardest option to choose.

If you do choose to write it yourself, be sure to follow our return policy writing guide below for tips and suggestions.

Common Questions to Answer in Your Return Policy

How Long Do I Have To Return Something?

Return windows are key; one of the first things customers will look for is the length of your return window. Therefore, this information must be prominent.

It’s important to know how much time is available for a customer to make a final decision on an item they’ve purchased. If your customer is on the fence, knowing they have a longer return window may be just the thing that pushes them toward a purchase.

How Long Will the Return Process Take?

Customers want to know how long the overall process will take. Once items are returned, 72% of customers expect a refund within five days. This is a tight window depending on the return system each company uses.

Offer to send emails or text messages to keep customers updated on the process each step of the way.

What, If Anything, Will It Cost Me?

According to consumer surveys, 79% of shoppers want free returns — with 47% wanting an easy-to-print return label.

Determining who pays for return shipping is an issue because businesses don’t want to operate at a loss, but customers expect that returns will not cost them anything.

You may find that you need to charge a processing fee, provide only partial returns, or have returns be mailed only to a specific facility. Decide what is best for your business and present it to the customer.

Do You Grant Refunds or Store Credit?

Offering only in-store credit can have a chilling effect on sales. Shoppers want the flexibility of choosing to stay with your product or receiving a full refund if the need arises. But you may be a smaller business that can’t survive a full refund policy.

Modern Citizen, for example, takes a hybrid approach to returns, allowing customers to enjoy free exchanges and returns for store credit — but an actual refund with the original payment method requires a $5 processing fee.

modern-citizen-return-policy-example

What Items Can’t Be Returned?

Let your customers know ahead of time what products can’t be returned. Some examples of these products include:

  • Products with a broken hygiene seal, such as underwear or swimwear
  • Personal single-use items like beauty products, cosmetics, and toiletries
  • Perishable products such as food
  • Personalized products with a name or other information
  • Products specifically made to order
  • Faulty items that are not returned in their original packaging
  • Any item labeled “as is” or “final sale”

What Your Return Policy Needs to Include

To run a successful e-commerce business, you need a return policy that caters to the customer and protects your business from fraudulent returns. In addition, the policy must be clear and enforced consistently.

Your return policy needs to include the following:

  1. The time frame for returns (return window)
  2. The acceptable conditions for returns (defined by business)
  3. Steps for a customer to follow (return requirements)

Time Frame

It’s important to let your customers know how long they have to return a product. In general, a 15- to 30-day return policy is standard. However, some businesses opt for 90 days, and still others — like L.L.Bean — are willing to accept a return 365 days later, as long as you have the purchase receipt.

ll-bean-one-year-return-policy-example

Open-ended return periods are not always beneficial for an online business. Failure to disclose a time frame for returns may result in customers trying to ship back items months or even years after purchase.

Be aware that items with gift receipts are often expected to have longer return windows. For example, if you received a gift from Barnes & Noble that included a gift receipt, you have 60 days to make a return for store credit instead of the regular 30-day return window.

barnes-and-nobles-gift-reciept-return-policy-example

Acceptable Conditions

When structuring your company’s return policy, define the condition a product must be in before a return will be processed. If you fail to include this information, customers may attempt to return merchandise in conditions too poor to be resold.

For example, Barnes & Noble requires that items be returned in their perfect original condition within their unopened shrink-wrapped packaging.

barnes-and-nobles-item-condition-return-policy-example

Apple’s return policy requires returned items to have all the accessories, packaging, documentation, and the purchase or gift receipt.

apple-return-policy-example

Steps for Returns

You must let your customers know the requirements that must be met before a return will be processed.

Such requirements may consist of:

  • Having the purchase receipt
  • Keeping purchase tags on the item
  • Returning the item in its original packaging
  • Acquiring an authorization number if needed
  • Using the correct shipping address
  • Including photos or other forms of authentication if needed

Refunds, Exchanges, or In-Store Credit

Return policies are often coupled with refund and exchange policies, all of which need to be detailed and transparent.

Many customers will expect a full refund, whereas others may accept an exchange or in-store credit. Before they return a product, a customer will likely want to know what method you will use to compensate them and how long it will take for the funds to reappear in their account.

Your business can decide to offer exchanges or store credit for certain types of returns. However, in most circumstances, customers will expect a full refund if the returned merchandise meets the requirements of the return policy.

What to Avoid in a Return Policy

Your return policy should never be overly technical. Covering every detail in a direct and informative way is important. But, on the other hand, you should avoid a convoluted return policy using poor formatting and specialized language at all costs.

It’s also best to avoid ambiguities or confusion when discussing the limitations of your return policy. This is especially critical regarding the restrictions on items available for return.

Tips for Writing a Good Return Policy

Make It Easy to Read and Understand

Return policies need to be presented in a clear and straightforward manner, from the wording you use to a simplified font to how the policy is formatted.

Studies show that most people skim headlines and read bullets. Keep this in mind when you structure your policy and guide your customers to the most critical information right upfront.

The language you use to explain your return policy must prevent potential misunderstandings. It’s not enough to provide extended details regarding returns. It’s best to keep the policy as simple as possible, usually no more than three steps for the customer to follow.

As you’re writing your policy, it’s a good exercise to ask yourself this:

If I were a customer, how would I feel about this policy? Would I appreciate the free return shipping or resent the company for offering only store credit? 

Avoid Copying and Pasting

All businesses are not the same. Pasting what works for someone else can lead to an atrocious, muddled policy that will turn shoppers off.

Set Clear Guidelines and Expectations

Customers should expect prompt service along with updates regarding receipt and any next steps required. They will tend to feel anxious if they return items and don’t hear any updates for days or even weeks, and they may wonder whether the item was even received.

Make it clear that customers can count on your business to keep to the timeline presented.

Match Your Brand’s Voice

If your website is playful and filled with color and graphics, your return policy should match that enthusiasm. Use graphs and charts to guide your customers as you inform them about their returns.

Similarly, if you are a relatively businesslike brand, you’ll want to write a return policy that matches that voice.

In terms of branding, if your business has a website and an app and is present on social media platforms, see what you can do to make your return policy fluid with your brand’s voice. For example, perhaps customers can start a return on a mobile app and complete it on a desktop computer. Perhaps your updates can be in the form of text messages that match your style and brand.

Avoid Harsh Language

There’s no need to be rude or defiant toward customers. Instead, relay your policies firmly without harsh language or rude comparisons.

Be Honest and Actionable

Always present the truth in your advertising and your return policies. Be honest about what you can do for your customers and give them an avenue to file grievances or complaints. This will make your customers feel heard and position your company as a business that takes its customers seriously and takes action on their behalf when necessary.

Generate Goodwill

Consider the value a good return policy could add to your business. For example, an extended return window during the holidays could serve as an effective marketing tool and increase the number of new and returning customers.

Longer return windows do not necessarily lead to an increase in returns. Instead, they are often an indicator of just how flexible your business will be if the customer is dissatisfied with a product for whatever reason.

Creating a longer time frame for the customer’s benefit will instantly position you as a trustworthy company that can be counted on to stand by its products and values its customers.

Make It Easy to Find

Don’t leave your customers guessing where to go to initiate a return. Instead, use a visible action button or provide links that are prominent and easy to navigate.

Use bold fonts or a bright, eye-catching color to attract customers to the return area of your site. Particularly during the holiday season, customers may be persuaded to use your site if your return policy is relatively easy to find.

Action buttons that lead the customer to your return policy are also helpful.

Where to Display Your Return Policy

Online Businesses

It’s always a good idea to feature your return policy on every page of your website.

Customers will typically expect to find the return policy in the footer of your website along with links to other policies regarding privacy, data, and terms of use. The return policy should be readily accessible through those links and should preferably allow customers to jump right into the return process.

You should note that return policies are often associated with shipping policies, no refund policies, all sales are final policies and money back guarantees. If you have these policies in place, you should link to your return policy from them.

Brick-and-mortar Businesses

A brick-and-mortar business should display its policy on the wall behind the register, in other conspicuous locations in the store, or on the back of the purchase receipt. It is up to each individual business to decide how they wish to structure their return policy.

Wrapping Up

An effective return policy should be clear, direct, and easily understood. It should specify the return window, the required condition of returned items, and the specific steps that must be followed to obtain a refund.

Masha Komnenic CIPP/E, CIPM, CIPT, FIP
More about the author

Written by Masha Komnenic CIPP/E, CIPM, CIPT, FIP

Masha is an Information Security and Data Privacy Specialist and a Certified Data Protection Officer. She has been a Data Protection Officer for the past six years, helping small and medium-sized enterprises achieve legal compliance. She has also been a privacy compliance mentor to many international business accelerators. She specializes... More about the author

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