How to build a return policy for footwear brands.

Footwear brands face a few unique challenges when it comes to creating an effective return policy. The biggest challenge is exchanges.

Return policies for footwear brands

When building a return policy, it's tempting to build one that matches other brands you have seen out in the wild. A 30 day return window seems standard so you adopt it, you look at what other brands allow to be exchanged and do the same. I promise you there is a better way.

To maximize the effectiveness of your return policy you need to build it specifically for your brand, and that starts by understanding what return strategies are best practice in your industry.

Here are a few footwear specific tactics to consider when building your policy.

Offer a generous approach to exchanges

It’s only natural that footwear has one of the highest rates of returns in ecommerce. Fit is super important for something that you may be wearing every single day. This means that customers are much choosier when purchasing footwear, and therefore a good chunk of customers are going to be looking to exchange.

Offering generous exchanges will increase a customers likelihood to purchase by reducing risk, and also ensure that every customer ends up with the best fit possible. When every customer has the right size, satisfaction increases and so does LTV and referrals.

There are a few ways to build this into your return policy: 

Offer free shipping on exchanges. Free exchanges will reduce the perceived risk of the initial purchases and boost your conversion rate. It also makes exchanging a more pleasant experience for any customer who feels the vulnerability of ending up with the wrong size (we have all been there). View exchanges as an opportunity to continue investing in the customer relationship.

Customize your return window. When it comes to return windows, the specific number matters less than the approach. If there’s a chance to strengthen the customer relationship, take advantage of it. Offer a longer return window for exchanges and store credit. But with refunds, which likely signals the end of a customer relationship, a shorter window is fine. Here’s what this could look like in practice: 

45-day window for exchanges or credit

14-day window for refunds

Address exchanges for gifts. Footwear is a commonly gifted item. Be sure to make it easy for anyone who ended up with the wrong size as a gift to exchange for the right pair. This is extra important for online only footwear brands that have no retail locations. Handling gift exchanges is a common feature of many return tools including Loop.

Provide clarity around “worn” versus “unworn”

Since shoes lose their value with wear, footwear brands need to explicitly state what their policy is around “worn” and “unworn” shoes. Here are a few tips to make sure this part of your policy is effective:

Clearly define what “unworn” means. The definition of “worn” is subjective. Some customers may feel nervous about even trying on their new shoes, while others may think that taking a stroll around the block is ok. That’s why you need to be as clear as possible about what this term means to your brand specifically. As you can see in M. Gemi’s return FAQs, they state that their definition includes scratches, markings, and any appearance of being worn.

Definition of worn for footwear return policy

Find creative ways to deal with “worn” shoes. If you want to offer the most generous and flexible policy possible, you can choose to accept “worn” shoes. Allbirds is an example of a brand that does this. As you can see in their policy below, they donate their worn shoes to a nonprofit. You can do something similar or take another creative approach, such as recycling the used material to create a new product.

Dealing with worn footwear returns

Loop even allows you to ask if the shoes are worn during the return process and route them accordingly. If they are worn you can generate a return label that will send them straight to the donation or recycling center. Book a demo with the team to see how this would work.

Remember to account for accessories

If you sell accessories in your store, make sure to account for those in your return policy as well. This includes everything from shoe polish to socks. Here are additional things to keep in mind when it comes to accessories: 

Be explicit. Accessories are a very broad category. Be clear about what falls under this bucket and, if reasonable, list out the actual items. The reason for this is to minimize misunderstandings with your customers. For instance, customers may assume that the handbag they purchase from your shoe store isn’t an accessory. They’ll be upset to find out that it actually is and therefore doesn’t qualify for returns or exchanges. Avoid this confusion by being explicit upfront. 

Use this as an opportunity to stand out. Most footwear brands don’t accept returns and exchanges on accessories. But that doesn’t mean you have to follow that approach. You can use this as another opportunity to further strengthen customer loyalty. If a first-time customer wants to return a pair of shoelaces, for example, simply give them the refund and allow them to keep the accessory. Even if they don’t love it, it starts the relationship off on the right foot and saves you the shipping costs.

Give customers a clear timeline

Clear timelines are especially important for footwear brands since your customer may have plans to wear their new shoes to a holiday party or other big event. Giving customers a timeline also builds anticipation around receiving their new item in the mail! Keep these tips in mind when laying out your timeline: 

Be thorough. Some questions to address include: how long does it generally take to receive a return at the warehouse? How long will it take to ship out the new item? Will customers receive a notification when the new item is on the way? Addressing these points in your policy creates one less reason for customers to write to your support team.

Provide next steps. Finally, if the customer’s item doesn’t arrive within the estimated timeline, they’ll want a status update. Point them to the right email address or nudge them to start a chat in your policy - similar to what Thursday Boot Co. does in theirs below. Without providing next steps, your customer has no way to move forward and will end up frustrated.

How to clearly explain timelines for a footwear return

Building the perfect return policy for your footwear brand

Exchanges are at the heart of all footwear return policies. Be sure that your policy is making them easy, clear, and fast. Make customers aware what worn looks like to you, and what happens when trying to return worn items. Overall the best footwear return policy starts with being as customer centric as possible.

Want an expert opinion on your policy, and how a returns platform can help? Get in touch with our team and we will show you what Loop can do.