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How To Write Return Policies That Entice and Keep Customers (and a Free Return Policy Template)

Having a return and refund policy shouldn’t just be an afterthought for your store.

It should be a key part of developing your brand, getting new customers, and nurturing those relationships so they keep coming back to do business with you.

When you look at the numbers, it’s clear that trustworthy retail return policies are getting more important every day – especially now that physical shopping is limited and online sales are skyrocketing.

According to a study from Narvar, 96 percent of respondents say they’d shop again with retailers who provided smooth and easy return policies and processes.

But a simple return policy comes into play even before a customer wants to send something back. Another study shows that 67 percent of shoppers look at a store’s return page before they even buy in the first place.

Importance of return policies

In an ideal world, everyone absolutely adores every product they buy from you and nobody ever makes returns. But as any store owner can tell you, this is unfortunately not the case.

It’s smart to approach returns as inevitable – and a huge opportunity to draw in new customers and retain the ones you have.

In this article, we’ll look at the basics of a small business return policy, some tips for you to keep in mind, and a return policy template you can use as a baseline for developing your own.

Let’s do this.

What Are Return Policies?

Return policies are sort of like a contract between you and your customer. It tells them the “terms and conditions” for buying items from you, and details how the process will work if they decide they don’t want to keep those items.

The best return policy is detailed yet simple. It tells customers everything they need to know about how a return and refund will work, but it does so in a clear and easy-to-understand way.

While there’s a lot of flexibility in terms of what exactly your return policy should include, there are a few items that you should always make sure to cover:

  • Which items in your store can and can’t be returned or exchanged.
  • The time period for returns or exchanges, like 10, 60, or 90 days from the date of purchase.
  • The condition of items being returned or exchanged. Does the item need to be returned in its original packaging? Can the items be only slightly worn? Will you accept the return or exchange if there’s visible damage to the item?
  • What the customer will receive after the refund is processed, like store credit or the full amount back to their credit card or other original forms of payment.
  • How to start the return or exchange process, complete with a link to the returns page, email address, phone number, etc.

Now that you understand the basics of a simple return policy, let’s dive into some tips you can apply as you write the perfect return policy for your unique store.

How To Write a Return Policy: Seven Tips

1. Have the right attitude: returns aren’t just a sunk cost

Many retailers look at their return policy as lost money and nothing more. But when you have this mindset, you’re missing out on all the opportunities a good return policy can bring to your business.

As I mentioned earlier, two-thirds of customers will look at your return policy before they make a purchase. They want to know that they’ll have an agreeable experience in case they’re not 100 percent happy with the item.

And with big international stores like Amazon, Walmart, and Target setting a high bar in terms of easy returns, smaller businesses don’t have much choice but to compete.

Of course, you should use strategies that work financially for your business. But you should also look at your return policy as a chance to show off your stellar customer service.

If a customer wants to return something they bought, the last thing they want is a surprise.

It’s a good idea to make your ecommerce return policy as prominent as possible on your website. Put it all over the place so shoppers don’t lose the opportunity to read it before they make a purchase.

You want to make sure it’s right there for them to see, so that they know exactly what to expect. This way, you’re minimizing the potential for poor customer service experiences, especially when your return policy includes some padding like customers needing to pay for shipping or a shorter time window for returns.

Try including your online return policy in places like:

  • Every product page (try near the description)
  • The footer of your website
  • FAQ page
  • Shopping cart page
  • Checkout and payment page
  • Post-purchase emails, like your transaction confirmation and shipping updates

When shoe company Allbirds offers an extension on holiday returns, they’re sure to let their customers know. They place it as a banner for all the world to see.

Allbirds banner return policy

3. Answer all of the customer’s potential questions

When you have a detailed return policy that anticipates all of your customer’s questions, you’re saving time – for everyone, including yourself.

Think about it: If all the answers are easy to find, you won’t have to deal with as many customer service calls and emails from confused (or annoyed) shoppers.

Here’s where it’s helpful to get into the specifics of the returns process. Help customers visualize exactly what they need to do to make their return, refund, or exchange happen quickly and without any hiccups.

In addition to the questions we addressed earlier, answer common questions like:

  • Who will pay for the return shipping, you or them?
  • Will they need to print a return label, include a receipt or order slip, or send in any other document with their return?
  • Is it necessary to send in the original packaging? What should they do if they don’t have it, or if it’s damaged?
  • In the case of a refund, how long will it take for them to get their money back?

If you have any urgent info, another approach is to follow Janine Vangool of UPPERCASE Magazine. She’s running a one-woman business, so she created a clever page to make sure her potential customers know what’s going on before they place any orders.

Customers need to click the button at the bottom of her letter before they can get to the homepage, assuring that they understand the big details.

4. Add some personality while you’re at it

In addition to easy navigation, writing your return and refund policy the way you speak has another opportunity: connecting with your customers by showing your company’s personality.

If your brand is quirky and fun, showcase it in your return policy.

Crack a joke or two. Include a funny GIF. Make self-aware comments about how annoying it can be to jump through hoops while trying to get a refund, and assure them that you’re not about that life either.

Every touchpoint with your visitors is a potential chance to win them over and convert them to customers. In a way, a good return policy also functions as a piece of marketing that promotes your mission and connects with people.

Man Crates, a gift store for men, has a fun return policy that mimics the fun voice of their branding. They even named their satisfaction guarantee the “High-Five Guarantee.”

Man Crates product returns

5. Use language that’s easy to understand

Nobody has time to decode confusing legal terms. 

The returns process can already feel like a hassle to your customers. Having complicated or difficult language will only make it feel like a bigger pain. 

And spoiler alert: If your customer feels like it’s a big pain to do business with you, they’re probably not going to come back.

So what’s the best way to make sure your online store return policy is easy to understand? Write like you speak. The same way I’m writing this article like I speak. (Easy to read, right?)

Aim for smaller vocabulary instead of bigger ones to make sure nobody has issues. This is especially helpful if your customers don’t speak English (or whatever language your website is published in) as their first language.

6. Make it a self-service affair

We live in a self-service age. It’s almost like we don’t even really need to interact with other humans in order to fully live our lives.

This is what a lot of customers want to see when it comes to returns and refunds too. They want to be able to go to your website or log in to their account, click a few buttons, and drop their package off at a shipping center on their own time.

What they don’t want is to spend an hour on the phone waiting for a customer service representative to process their return.

If you can, try to “automate” the process as much as possible. Not only will you save the customer’s time, but you’ll also save time and resources on your end by being able to avoid using up precious customer service hours processing refunds.

Footwear brand Manitobah Mukluks has a dedicated page for returns to streamline the process. It also clearly displays the return policy to help answer any questions.

dedicated returns policy page

7. Opt for free returns if you can afford it

One of the biggest surprises that customers dislike is finding out that they have to pay for the shipping (or some other associated fees) of their own return.

In one study, 79 percent of respondents said they expect free return shipping. 

It’s not always a deal-breaker, and it won’t always cause huge customer service problems, but more and more customers are expecting to be able to return their products for free.

If you can swing this financially, I recommend it. It will help to keep you competitive with many other businesses that have return policies like this, and it can also build more trust when people are deciding if they want to purchase from your store.

Of course, it’s not always possible. No problem – just be sure that your return policy is easy to find and easy to read. This way, customers will know they need to pay for return shipping before they make the purchase, so they won’t be upset to learn about it after the fact.

Return Policy Template

Not exactly sure how to write your own return policy from scratch? Using a return policy template is a great starting point.

Once you have the template, you can plug in the details of your business. 

You can also play around with the language so that it’s a better match for your brand, while also being more engaging and enjoyable for your potential and current customers to read.

I’m going to walk you through this using Shopify’s free Return Policy Generator tool. It’s a perfect baseline, so be sure to fill it out yourself.

All you need to enter is:

  • Company name
  • Your email (Shopify will send the sample returns policy to your email, so make sure it’s correct)
  • Business address
  • Website URL
Shopify return policy generator

You’ll get an email titled “Your refund policy is ready!”

From there, you can click the link in the email to get your customized return policy.

Shopify policy for returns

Read it carefully. Delete what doesn’t apply to your store and add what does based on the tips in this article.

For example, Shopify’s return policy template mentions that perishable goods aren’t returnable. If you don’t sell any perishable goods, no sweat. Delete that part and cruise on.

You’ll also find that the generator plugged in your email and business address as customer-facing information. You can delete or replace those.

Create a Return Policy Where Everyone Wins

The key to having the best return policy is to find the perfect balance of what works for your customers as well as your own business.

Aim to make it as easy and cheap as possible for your customers with things like free return shipping and an automated returns process. But if this just isn’t right for you at the moment, no problem.

Regardless of the specific details of your online shopping return policy, make sure that everything is clearly communicated and easy to find. 

Write your page with the idea that it’ll be a one-stop-shop where customers can have all the information and tools they need to move forward with their return with little or no friction.

When you can find the right balance and write it out with transparency and integrity, you’ll be in a great position to entice new customers while keeping your current ones happy.

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