How to write a return policy: The 5 questions you need to answer.

An effective policy is one that answers all the potential questions a customer has. Here are the ones to address when writing your return policy.

five-questions

When most brands sit down to write their return policy, they don’t put much thought into the process. In fact, it’s common practice to just copy and paste a return policy from a brand you respect and add it to your site. 

Trust me, I get it.

When I launched my own ecommerce brand, I did the exact same thing. But after spending years in the customer retention and returns space, I can tell you that’s not the way to go. Writing a return policy doesn’t have to be hard, but it does have to be thoughtful.

When it comes down to it, there are really only five key questions you need to address in your return policy.

The 5 questions to answer in your return policy

To create a great, frustration-free returns experience, you have to know what your customers are thinking. Based on Loop’s experience working with hundreds of different brands, I’ve come up with five questions that customers are most likely to have about returns, along with recommendations on how to approach them in your policy.

General tips to keep in mind:

But first, let’s review a few general tips. Think of these as best practices to keep in mind while you’re going through the five questions - it’ll help shape your answers in the right direction.

  • Keep it simple. This applies to everything, from the language you use to the way you format your text to the policy itself. Remember, you’re talking to a customer - not a lawyer.

  • Put yourself in the customers’ shoes. As you’re writing your policy, it’s a good exercise to ask yourself: if I was a customer, how would I feel about this policy? If you find yourself frowning or crinkling your nose, it’s time to change course. 

  • Consider the value-add to your brand. While Loop is all about creating a customer-focused returns experience, we’re equally passionate about helping your business be successful. So as you work on your policy, think about what kind of value it could add to your brand (like using your return policy as a powerful marketing asset and boost conversions as a result).

So what happens when you don’t follow these tips? You end up with a return policy that looks like this:

block of text return policy

Not pretty. Posting something like this is a surefire way to have customers running from your brand before they even make a purchase.

Instead, let’s focus on creating an awesome return policy by using these five questions as our guiding principles.

1. How long do I have?

One thing customers will always look for in your policy is the length of your return window. Not only do they want to know how much time they’ll have to make a decision, but customers also use the length of the window as an indication of how flexible your brand will be if anything were to go wrong.

Knowing this, make sure your return window is clearly visible in your policy and lean towards a longer timeframe for the benefit of the customer.

A longer return window can be used as a marketing asset and does not encourage more returns as many brands might think. If you need more guidance on how to set your return window, check out this post to learn more about Loop’s approach.

2. Where do I start?

Some return policies don’t actually make it clear how to start the returns process. This usually happens because the instructions are buried in a wall of text or the information lives on a different page. As you can imagine, this is a super frustrating experience for customers.

The easiest way to communicate this is by having a clear and strong CTA. Don't leave your customers guessing how to get started. It's not going to reduce returns, people will always find it if they need it. But if you burry it, you will frustrate them along the way.

Check out the page from Modern Citizen as an example. When a customer clicks the “Returns Center” button, they’re automatically directed to the portal to start their returns process. Easy as that and the customer can handle the return in their time without the need for a customer service rep to assist.

modern citizen return policy example

3. How long will it take?

Customers will feel anxious if they send off their return items and don’t hear any updates for weeks, or understand what the expected timeline is. Did the item make it back to the warehouse? When will they see their money back in their account? Understanding the timeline for processing returns will mitigate these concerns, and reduce how often they are asked to your support team.

When you include this information in your policy, include processing times for both exchanges and returns since they’re usually different. Also, be honest with how long it could take. If they receive their items or money sooner than the indicated timeline, great! You exceeded expectations. If they don’t, then you still leave yourself some wiggle room by providing an estimate over a guarantee.

Take a look at how Tecovas presents this information on their website.

Tecovas return policy example

4. What will it cost me?

One of the worst things you can do in your return policy is to sneak in hidden costs and shipping fees. I guarantee your customers will figure it out - and they won’t like it. So be clear and upfront about your return cost policy. 

Free returns are a great way to reduce the perceived risk of making a purchase. In fact, 62% of shoppers would shop again from a brand that is offering free returns. If you are offering free returns consider highlighting it across your site. Regardless of the cost though, please make it clear when writing your return policy.

62% of shoppers would shop again from a brad that is offering free returns.

I also understand that shipping is one of the biggest expenses in ecommerce and you might not be comfortable offering free returns because of it. At Loop, we actually recommend a hybrid approach where you charge return shipping on refunds but waive it for anyone exchanging. It encourages people to choose a revenue retaining exchange and allows you to recoup some of the cost when they exchange.

5. Is there anything I can't return?

When it comes to return eligibility, there are two areas your return policy must address:

  • The condition of the item. Most brands won’t accept returns on items that have been worn or used. But the definition of “worn” can be subjective, so be sure to clearly define what it means to your brand in the return policy.  

  • The type of item. Similarly, you may sell items that are never eligible for exchanges or returns. If this is the case, note it in your policy. Many brands, for example, don’t accept any types of returns on final-sale items, accessories, and undergarments.

Knix does an awesome job with this and addresses both types of eligibility in their return policy.

knix return policy example

Use the 5 Q's to write an effective return policy

Don’t make the same mistake that I did of cutting corners on your return policy. Answer the five questions we outlined above, use tips we shared, and I promise you’ll end up with a policy that your customers (and you) will love.

Need more support to create an awesome returns experience? Just get in touch with our team.