What’s the Ideal Return Window for Your eCommerce Store?
Rebecca Fox

April 2, 2023

As an eCommerce store, setting a return window is an important part of building trust and loyalty with your customers. But with so many factors to consider, what’s the ideal return window for your business?

Factors to Consider When Setting a Return Window

It can be challenging to determine the ideal return window for your eCommerce store. 

While the most common eCommerce return window length is 30 days¹, some stores offer a longer return window in an attempt to be more customer-friendly while others offer a shorter one to minimize their revenue loss.

Ultimately, the ideal return window for your store depends on several factors, including industry standards, customer expectations, product types, and legal requirements.

So, what do you need to take into account when setting your return window?

Industry Standards

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, it’s helpful to know what other eCommerce stores in your industry are doing.

For example, electronics stores often offer longer return windows than toy stores¹. This might be to give customers time to try out the products and decide if they want to keep them, as electronics are typically higher-value and have a longer lifespan. 

On the other hand, toy stores may offer shorter return windows in order to keep their inventory fresh.

“Our toy store offers a 14-day return window, which is enough time to allow customers to return items if they’re not satisfied, while also providing our online store with the opportunity to keep our inventory fresh and current.”

– Ray Lauzums, CEO, Poggers

To get a sense of what the industry standards are for your specific niche, do some research and look at what other eCommerce stores in your industry are offering.

Some ways to find out what standard practice is in your industry are to search online, consult with industry associations or trade groups, or go to competitors’ sites and take a look at their return policies.

Keep in mind that while industry standards can be helpful, they shouldn’t be the only factor in setting your return window. Your final decision should be based on your specific business and customer needs.

Customer Expectations

It’s important to consider customer expectations when setting your store’s return window. A return window that aligns with your customers’ needs can help build trust, loyalty, and a positive reputation for your business.

Customers today expect a certain level of convenience and flexibility when it comes to returns. They want a return window that gives them enough time to try out a product and decide if they want to keep it or not, without feeling rushed or pressured.

To get a sense of your customers’ expectations, collect customer feedback and use return analytics to track return behavior. Look for patterns in the timing and frequency of returns, and consider surveying your customers to get direct feedback on their return preferences. 

The more aligned your return window is with your customers’ expectations, the more likely you are to increase customer satisfaction and reduce negative reviews.

Product Types

Different products have different return requirements and considerations, so it’s important to tailor your return window to the types of products you sell.

For instance, products that have a short shelf life or expiration date, such as food or beauty products, may warrant a shorter return window to prevent customers from returning expired or unusable products that can’t be resold.

On the other hand, more expensive items or items that require more time to evaluate such as furniture or clothing, often call for a longer return window in order to give customers enough time to try and test the product before deciding whether to keep it. 

You can also offer different return windows for different product categories, such as a longer return window for clothing and accessories and a shorter return window for electronics.

By tailoring your return window to each product type, you can ensure that your customers have enough time to evaluate and return products as needed, while also protecting your business from excessive returns or fraudulent activity.

Return Costs

Returns can be expensive, as they often require shipping and restocking fees, and can also result in lost inventory or damaged products. As such, it’s important to balance the needs of your customers with the operational costs of handling returns when setting your return window.

A short return window can result in customers feeling rushed to make a decision about returning a product, resulting in a higher rate of customer complaints and lost revenue.

On the other hand, if your return window is too long, you may receive a higher volume of returns, which can be costly and time-consuming to manage.

To find the right balance, consider the types of products you sell and the average cost of processing returns for those products. If you sell high-end or luxury products, you may be able to offer a longer return window without significantly impacting your costs. If you sell low-margin products, however, a shorter return window may be necessary to keep your costs in check.

In order to offset your return costs, you may want to consider implementing a restocking fee or limiting the number of returns allowed per customer.

Maintaining a balance between the costs of handling returns and customer needs is key to setting a reasonable return window.

Return Fraud Prevention

How you set your return window can make a big difference in preventing return fraud

Return fraud is a growing concern in eCommerce. Return fraud happens when a customer abuses your return policy for their own gain under false pretenses, such as returning products they didn’t buy from your store, or claiming a product was defective and returning a damaged product or another product altogether.

“One particularly memorable incident involved a customer who tried to return a set of off-road lights that had clearly been used and damaged.

The customer contacted us to request a return, claiming that the lights did not work and were defective. We asked for photos of the damage or defect, but the customer was unable to provide any evidence to support their claim. 

Despite our suspicions, we agreed to process the return and issue a refund, as we wanted to maintain a positive relationship with the customer. 

When we received the returned item, we were shocked to see that the lights had clearly been used extensively and were now damaged beyond repair. It was obvious that the customer had taken the lights out on a trail ride and then deliberately damaged them in order to make it look like a manufacturing defect.”

– Chad Brinkle, Owner & Founder, High Country Offroad

Setting a long return window can increase the likelihood of return fraud, while a short return window can alienate customers by making them feel rushed in making a decision about returning an item. 

A good rule of thumb is to set a reasonable return window that gives customers enough time to receive and test their purchases, while also implementing return fraud prevention measures such as product authentication and tracking. 

Using a returns management system like ReturnGO can help you track and analyze returns data, identify patterns of return fraud, and prevent fraudulent returns from being accepted.

Legal Requirements

Depending on your location, there may be legal requirements regarding returns that you need to take into account when setting your store’s return window.

Some states or countries require a minimum return window or require you to provide customers with specific information about the return policy, such as how refunds will be processed and what items are eligible for return.

For example, UK law imposes a minimum return window of 14 days, and in California, stores that don’t accept returns within 7 days must clearly display their return policy otherwise customers may return products for a full refund within 30 days of purchase.

In addition to legal requirements, you should also be aware of any contractual obligations you have with third-party providers such as payment processors or eCommerce platforms, that may have their own return requirements.

Failure to comply with legal requirements can result in legal repercussions such as fines or legal action from customers.

To ensure compliance with legal requirements and contractual obligations, make sure to review the relevant refund laws and regulations and consult with a legal professional as needed.

How Long Do Customers Actually Take to Return?

It’s important to take into account the actual behavior of customers in addition to things like industry standards and return costs when creating your return window.

ReturnGO data shows that while the average return window is 30 days, customers tend to return items in a shorter time frame, within an average of 19 days from purchase.

The time between order and return varies significantly by industry, with toys and games being returned the quickest at an average of 7 days, and electronics taking the longest to be returned at an average of 32 days. 

Seeing how long it takes customers to decide to return items can help you decide how to set your return window based on the types of products you sell.

It’s also worth noting that the average time between order and return is often shorter than the industry average return window, which indicates that the industry average is sufficient since customers don’t usually take advantage of the full amount of time they are given to return items.

When setting your store’s return window, it’s important to take into account the behavior of your specific customer base as well as the types of products you sell.

A return platform like ReturnGO can provide this valuable data on your customer behavior and give you insights to help you make informed decisions about your return window.

Best Practices for Setting a Return Window

When setting your store’s return window, be sure to communicate your return window clearly and to track customer feedback.

Implement these best practices to create a clearly-defined return window.

Take a Tiered Approach

Offering tiered return windows can help incentivize customers to stay loyal to your store.

For example, you can offer a longer return window for exchanges and store credit and a shorter window for refunds, to show your customers that you value their business and want to keep them coming back.

Having a shorter return window for refunds than for exchanges helps discourage return fraud and incentivizes customers to opt for an exchange or store credit, which retains the revenue in your store and keeps your customers coming back.

A returns management platform like ReturnGO gives you the flexibility to set different return windows for refunds, exchanges, and store credit, so you can customize your return policy to fit your business.

Communicate Your Return Window

When it comes to setting a return window for your eCommerce store, clear communication is essential. Customers should know exactly what your return window is and what the process entails. 

Here are some tips for communicating your return window clearly:

  • Make your return window easy to find – Your return window should be clearly stated in your return policy which should be easily accessible on your website and other sales channels. Include a link to your return policy in your order confirmation emails and on your product pages.
  • Use clear and concise language – Avoid using jargon or technical terms that might confuse customers. Use simple language to explain your return window and what customers can expect.
  • State the length of the return window clearly – Make sure to clearly state how the return window is calculated, for example, whether it starts when the order is placed or when the product is delivered.
  • Specify any exceptions – If there are certain products or conditions that have different return windows, be sure to specify them clearly.

By communicating your return window clearly, you can help avoid confusion and frustration, leading to a better customer experience and increased customer loyalty.

Monitor Customer Feedback

Keeping an eye on what customers are saying about your returns process can give you valuable insights into how customers feel about it and identify areas for improvement.

Monitor customer feedback by tracking customer reviews and ratings on your website, social media, and other online platforms. Look for comments related to the returns process, such as how easy or difficult it was to initiate a return and what they thought about the return window.

Additionally, track your customer behavior and see how long it actually takes customers to return items, and use that information to adjust your return window as needed.

Being open to adjusting your return window shows customers that you value their feedback and are committed to providing an excellent customer experience.

Make sure to communicate any changes in your return window to your customers so they know what to expect from the returns process.

Automate the Returns Process

Use a returns management system like ReturnGO to automatically uphold your return window. 

With ReturnGO, you can easily set up your return policy and specify the length of the return window for each product or category. 

Customers will only be able to request returns during the return window, so you aren’t burdened with return requests that don’t meet your store’s requirements.

ReturnGO also provides you with real-time return analytics and reporting to help you identify return patterns and optimize your return policy accordingly. Based on this information, you can adjust the length of your return window as needed to improve customer satisfaction and reduce return costs.

Set a Return Window That Works For Your Business

Setting a return window for your eCommerce store is an important decision that requires careful consideration of industry standards, customer expectations, product types, return costs, fraud prevention, legal requirements, and customer feedback. 

By following these best practices and being flexible, you can find the ideal return window for your business that balances customer satisfaction with profitability.

Sources:

¹ ReturnGO Data 2023

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