Consumers Are More Cautious When It Comes To Buying Online

Did you know that having a solid returns and exchanges policy can make or break a sale all on its own? One of the biggest contributors to a sale, regardless of the season, is how you deal with a potential buyers common questions, especially regarding what youll do if they dont like what they purchased. In a recent survey from comScore and UPS , 63 percent of American consumers check the returns policy before making a purchase and 48 percent would shop more with online retailers that offer hassle-free returns. These policies can have an even greater impact on international consumers, most notably in Germany where 72 percent of consumers would give more business to stores with hassle-free returns.

Consumers have been trained to be more cautious when it comes to buying online. First, they want to avoid shipping costs. Second, they are not able to interact with their purchase in person as they would in a physical store. A returns and exchanges policy shows that you, the e-commerce business owner, stand by your product and pride yourself on a stellar customer service experience. It is one of the many wow factors you can provide shoppers who may be a little concerned about buying online rather than in person. Plus looking out for your customers is just good business.

Providing a comprehensive policy for returns and exchanges instills confidence in you, your business and your products. And that can have a huge impact on your bottom line. One study featured in the Journal of Marketing found that customers who received free shipping on returns increased their purchases over the next two years by 58 to 357 percent. Developing a comprehensive plan can actually reduce the resources you spend on returns and keep your customers coming back. Even though the customer may not be satisfied with their original purchase, handling the return professionally will ensure their continued patronage. Loyalty is earned by providing an awesome experience even when your product or service wasnt a perfect fit.

Writing a great returns and exchanges policy

It can feel intimidating to provide an awesome returns and exchange policy right out of the gate, especially if you are new to running a business. So keep these key points in mind when creating or revamping your stores return policy:

  • Dont hide your policy. You customers should never have to go on a scavenger hunt to find information on your store. Keep this in broad daylight on your main menu. Or, if youre comfortable, shout it from the rooftops by placing it in places like your carousel and banners throughout your store.

  • Never (ever, ever, ever) copy and paste. This goes for nearly anything on your store, but a returns and exchange policy is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Personalize it to your specific business.

  • Use plain English. Avoid words that send people running for a dictionary. You dont want to confuse your customers.

  • Avoid the scary stuff. Avoid phrases like you must and you are required or, one of the worst, we are not responsible for. Long story short, make it a snap. It should be just as easy to return or exchange something as it is to buy it in the first place.

  • Outline what they can expect from you. Do you exchange, offer store credit or return their money? Every merchant has their own preference, and you shouldnt feel pressured to offer only a full refund.

  • Set expectations for your customer. Whats the procedure for a return or exchange? Does the customer need to use your packaging or can they use their own? Do they need to include the order slip? Is there a limited time in which a return or exchange can be completed? Who pays for shipping, you or your customer? Outline your specific process and guidelines.

  • Educate your staff. Again, this applies to everything about your business, but make sure that all employees are up to date with your return policy and procedures so they can assist customers quickly and effectively.

  • Be prepared to eat the cost of your mistakes. If you messed up, be honest and make it right. If you shipped the wrong item, or packaged it poorly, you should be willing to make it right no matter what the official policy is. We all make mistakes, its how you handle those mistakes that matters.

And dont forget to play fair. If you make a change to your policy, be sure to honor the old policy if an order was placed before the change took place.

Examples of great return policies

Need some ideas on how to create a good policy? Start by checking out your competitors. What are they doing to make their (potentially your) customers happy? What are they doing that you can do better?

Now that you have some basic guidelines, its time to look beyond your industry at the e-commerce innovators. There are tons of businesses out there doing returns well, really well, and they dont all start with the letter Z. Yes Zapposs returns policy is mentioned a great deal. They do a great job standing by their product, both shipping and returns are free of fees and hassle. Some other big names to check out:


Nordstroms has built a strong reputation on allowing free returns at any time for any reason. My favorite part is just how many times they include their policy on their homepage.


All Anthropologie merchandise is unconditionally guaranteed. If you are not satisfied with your purchase for any reason, please let us know so we can take care of you. The wording here makes it crystal clear that the customer comes first.


The athletic apparel company advertises a Give-It-A-Workout Guarantee and will take back any purchase for any reason. This directly counters Lululemon, a primary competitor notorious for their tough returns policy.

L.L. Bean

Another store with a cleverly marketed guarantee. At L.L. Bean, your satisfaction doesnt have a time limit.


Costco offers a full refunds on all their products, but they do have a time limit of 90 days on consumer electronics like computers, phones, cameras and TVs. This is a great example of creating a personalized policy that works for your business.

But Im a little guy, I cant offer all those things

It is definitely easier for large companies to offset the financial impact of free shipping on returns and exchanges or full refunds with no questions asked. As a small business, it can be hard to go big right out of the gate. Ideally youll work your way up to a very competitive offering, like the lifetime guarantee our client Lupine has for their dog collars. In the meantime, there are some things that you can do for your customers that will still show them you stand behind your offering. After all, a good returns policy should not only be positive for the customer, it should still be profitable for your business.

  • Crunch the numbers and figure out how to offer free return shipping with a minimum order value. For instance, you could have free returns on any order over $50. This will help you cover some or all of the cost of the return or exchange.

  • If you happen to have a physical store, let your customers return or exchange a product in person for free. Thats something the big guys do, and many consumers prefer this convenient option over shipping back returns.

  • Perhaps you could offer free return shipping during your high-volume sales periods, like Christmas and other holidays, as a promotional offer. Customers who purchase during a set period of time, up to Dec. 24 for example, would qualify for free shipping on any returns. The high volume of sales could offset any losses you may encounter.

So, if you havent written a returns and exchanges policy yet, get started! Tis the season for gift giving, receiving, returning, exchanging and building customer loyalty. That is a gift that will last you all year round.

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