10 Tips For A Winning Returns Policy

April 29, 2015

Research has proved that 74% of consumers check your returns policy before buying* and I know it’s what I always do too. These 10 tips are drawn up from our observations and discussions with retailers to see what a best-practice returns policy looks like. British retailer Boden ticks plenty of these boxes, so not only has it been a great excuse to browse all their lovely clothes whilst researching, they’re also a great example of who to follow.

Our creative department have collectively crashed their heads together and created a smart, brand new returns series ‘Revising Returns’ that will be rolling out over the coming weeks. This series of articles will focus on revising the way returns are perceived globally. Whether this means tightening up your returns policy or advice on how to cope with seasonal peaks, our aim is to make returns that little bit more digestible, sliced up into bite-sized chunks.

The first in our mini-series puts the spotlight on returns policies. After all, it’s the first place your customers will go to find out just how easy flexible you are if they change their mind, or it doesn’t fit, or their cat prefers it in blue not pink.

10 Tips for a winning returns policy
1) Follow the rule of 3.

A returns policy which is buried within your online shop isn’t going to give anyone confidence. The best online shops put delivery and returns links on the homepage, usually in the footer. We gravitate towards retailers policies all the time as part of what we do with ReBOUND and expect a few simple maneuverers to find the returns policy – a scroll, and 2 clicks. Try this out on Boden’s site and see for yourself. If you can’t land on the retailer’s homepage, scroll to the footer and be reading the policy within 2 clicks, it looks like you’re trying to hide.

Making sure your policy is easy to find on your website is vital to ensure a smooth navigation for your customers.

2) Watch your tone

We find that the best returns policies are written in plain English (and translated on local language sites), with minimal use of legal jargon. If the tone is down-to-earth, then you’re probably on the right track. It’s rare to come across a returns policy which actually puts a smile on your face when you read it, so Boden’s honest and wittily phrased policygets a big thumbs up from us. “(things like wear and tear are included, though garments that have been mauled by pets, drawn on by nephews, worn while decorating and so forth, don't qualify)…there will be a few rotten apples who might look on this as an opportunity to refresh their wardrobe for free each season (you know who you are)…If you are a pathological chancer and simply can't help yourself, we recommend trying it on with our competitors instead.”

3) Simplify your structure

Explaining your returns policy as a Q&A feature seems to flow quite well. Consumers click on your policy looking for answers, so help them out by structuring your policy into questions. – Your customer service team will know better than anyone what your FAQs are, so make life easier for everyone by cutting to the chase. Boden do this really well on their site;
Great British Style


4) Be generous

Increasingly we see retailers offering really generous return periods with 365 day policies, like Boden do. Granted, you take a risk that customers might ‘try it on’ with you, but if you’re confident in the quality of your products and it’s appropriate for your market sector, then offering a longer return period can give your customers that extra nudge to buy more if they have longer to decide if they keep it.

Let them decide once they’ve bought it, rather than umming and ahhhing in front of a computer.

5) Be Flexible

Following on from point 4 - Appeal to your customer’s holiday spirit by extending your returns policy around seasonal peaks. If you prepare for the aftermath of the biggest gift-buying event of the year, by allowing a longer grace period for the return of the miss-judged unwanted presents (we’ve all had them) you might experience less pressure on your logistics if this return window is more spread out.

Your customers will thank you with their loyalty and trust.


6) Offer FREE Returns

77% of consumers believe that they shouldn’t have to pay for return shipping costs** so in the UK, it’s now expected that retailers should offer at least 1 free return method as standard. A study conducted by TrueShip which compared data from 2 large online retailers reported a 320% sales increase when the retailers offered free returns.

There’s enough evidence around now to confidently say that if you offer free returns, then you will sell more.


7) Offer choice

If you are not able to offer a free returns policy, look into giving customers more ways to return instead. Up to 80% of first time buyers never shop with a retailer again if they have to send back their first order.*** Combat this by offering flexible, convenient options for your customers to return such as through local parcel shops, lockers or couriers as well as through postal networks. If you take steps to improve the returns experience for your customers by offering more choice to suit their lifestyles, then you can improve the likelihood of maintaining that customer in the future.
At ASOS you have 7 options when returning your items in the UK;

  • Royal Mail - Return via a Post Office location.
  • Collect+ - Return via a Collect+ location.
  • Doddle - Return via a Doddle store location.
  • InPost - Return via an InPost parcel locker location.
  • Hermes - Return via a Hermes Parcel Shop location.
  • Hermes - Book a courier collection to collect Monday to Saturday.
  • My Returns - Book a courier collection to collect within 60 minutes.

That’s pretty impressive!


8) Be clear

If you’re not making your online returns easy and simple to understand, it will come as no surprise that you may be missing out on big-time sales. MetaPack found that over one quarter of consumers found it difficult and frustrating to return items that they had bought online, with 51% stating the process as a whole was over-complicated.**** I’ve received items before that are swimming in bits of paper when they arrive and it can be frustrating to sift through what’s what.

If you’re using an online booking system to enable consumer returns, then make sure you enclose very clear and simple instructions in the package with a url, or QR code directing them to the site where they can access their shipping label.

9) Keep customers up to date

Make it your policy to keep customers updated on the status of their return. Ensuring your customers are kept up to date with automated email updates on telling them where their package is and when they will be refunded will show them how smooth your returns process is. This is even more important if your customers are overseas as there is greater risk their parcel might go astray.

Good communication is vital to round off the positive customer experience.

10) Refund quicker

Even if you do all of the above, the customer won’t be happy if they’re waiting for their money back for long periods of time. For cross-border returns, consider refunding as soon as you receive confirmation their item has arrived at the in-country address. As far as the consumer is concerned, they’ve done their bit by sending it back within the time period you’ve allowed, so if you can speed up the return to refund time, you’ll be winning.

Let us know if you’re considering revising your returns policy with any of these 10 tips, we’d love to hear from you.


Written by Kelly Jones



*The UPS/Comscore ‘Pulse Of The Online Shopper’ study 2012
** Trueship ‘What your returns policy says about your business’ http://www.trueship.com/articles/what-your-returns-policy-says-about-your-business/
*** Clear returns ‘Why returns are costing you more than you think’ http://www.clearreturns.com/why-returns-are-costing-you-more-than-you-think/
**** MetaPack/Gartner ‘Returns: The New Battle Ground for Retail’ 2015 http://www.metapack.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Returns-The-new-battleground-for-retail.pdf

Published by Monk Chipman