How to Write a Return Policy: The Ultimate Guide
January 01, 2023
by Rebecca Fox

Writing a clear return policy is important for setting expectations with customers about your store’s return process.

Return policies help you give your customers all the information they need about the return process before they make a purchase, including how long they have to return items, what condition the items need to be in, and how they should go about requesting a return. 

Use the tips, best practices, and steps laid out in this guide to write an effective return policy that increases customer trust, reduces return fraud, and improves the customer experience.

Table of Contents

What is a Return Policy?

A return policy outlines the specific requirements as to how, when, and under what conditions customers can return purchased items to your online store.

Use your store’s return policy to explain to customers how returns, refunds, and exchanges work, including the accepted returns, refund timelines, and any restocking fees that might apply. 

Why is it Important to Have a Return Policy?

Having a return policy is important because it lets your customers know exactly how your store’s return process works, reducing misunderstandings and return fraud. Most customers are unlikely to purchase a product if the store has an unclear return policy. 

Your return policy should be simple and straightforward, so that customers will have fewer questions, resulting in a better customer experience and increased customer trust.

  • Improve the Customer Experience

Having a clear return policy can help improve the customer experience by setting expectations and promoting honesty and transparency.

Giving customers a clear understanding of the return process before they place an order can help reduce confusion and frustration for customers later on, and leave them with a positive shopping experience. 

  • Prevent Return Fraud

A well-defined return policy can help prevent return fraud because having clearly defined conditions makes it harder for people to commit return fraud than if conditions are vague or unclear.

Return fraud is an ongoing issue for eCommerce stores around the world. There are many forms of return fraud, ranging from unintentional fraud to organized crime.

Common forms of return fraud include:

  • Wardrobing – when customers buy an item planning to use it once or twice and then return it for a refund.
  • Bracketing – when customers buy multiple items with the intention of returning the ones they don’t want once they receive them.
  • Empty Box Fraud – when customers claim they received an empty box or never received the package at all, and request a refund while secretly keeping the item.
  • Price Arbitrage – when customers buy two similar-looking but differently-priced items and return the cheaper item as if it’s the more expensive one. 

Customers will be deterred from fraudulently returning items if there is a clear return policy because they’ll know the conditions for returning items, and that they won’t be able to get a refund for items that don’t fit those conditions.

  • Build Customer Trust

Having a transparent return policy helps build customer loyalty. Customers are more likely to trust stores that are open and honest about their return process, fees, and conditions.

Communicate your return policy clearly to your customers to make sure that your customers know exactly what to expect from the return process.

Be sure to explain what types of returns you accept, what fees they are responsible for, and the expected timeline for returns. By being transparent and upfront with your return policy, you can build a customer base that trusts you and will come back and buy again.

  • Reduce Customer Support Queries

Making it clear to customers what to expect from your store’s return process can reduce the number of customer support queries your team has to handle about returns.

Your return policy should answer all questions customers might have about the return process, so they won’t need to contact your customer support team.

The more customers know about the return process, the less likely they are to feel frustrated or confused later on when trying to return an item, and the fewer customer support queries your team will need to handle regarding returns, freeing them up to focus on other tasks.

How to Write a Return Policy in 7 Steps

Write a return policy for your online store following these 7 steps that will take you from defining your return conditions to formatting, editing, and publishing your return policy.

This guide will help you write a return policy that is effective, clear, and reflects your brand.

Are you ready? Let’s dive in.

Step 1 – Prepare to Write a Return Policy

Before you start writing your store’s return policy, it is important to take the time to think, plan, and decide what will be included in it.

Questions to Answer Before Writing a Return Policy

Decide on answers to some basic questions before writing your return policy. These answers will help you define your return policy and set customer expectations.

It’s important to understand what your store requires, how it handles returns, and what the return process looks like before writing a return policy.

Some of the essential questions you need to decide on answers to include:

  • How long do customers have to return items?
  • What condition do items need to be in?
  • What types of returns do you offer?
  • What steps do customers need to take to request a return?
  • Do you charge any fees for returns?

Your answers to these questions will be based on considerations such as your costs, processes, item value, customer base, and brand values.

The decisions you make at this stage will be used to define your return conditions later on in the process.

What to Consider When Writing a Return Policy

When deciding on what to include in your return policy, there are several factors to keep in mind. 

Depending on your business considerations, your store may prioritize some of these over others. For example, while some stores may be more concerned with standing out from their competitors, others may be more concerned with meeting customers’ expectations. 

Review the list below and take these factors into consideration when creating a return policy for your store.

1. Competition

When writing your return policy, it’s worth taking a look at your competitors’ return policies. Your return policy should aim to create a competitive advantage and help you stand out from other eCommerce stores in your industry.

While staying competitive, it is also important to create a return policy that meets the specific needs and requirements of your store.

2. Shipping Costs 

Take into account your shipping costs when deciding whether to offer free return shipping or not.  Your return shipping costs may vary depending on the size and weight of the products. 

For example, offering free return shipping on large, bulky, or heavy items may not be worth your time since shipping can be expensive for those items.

3. Customer Expectations 

Consider customer expectations when writing your return policy. A clear and straightforward return policy will help customers feel secure in their purchases and encourage repeat business.

Create a customer-centric return policy that offers a reasonable return window, provides a range of return methods, and is easy to understand. 

By taking into account customer expectations when writing your return policy, you can provide a positive customer experience that will help drive customer satisfaction, loyalty, and trust.

4. Profit Margins 

Consider your profit margins when deciding what return fees to charge and what types of return resolutions you offer for each product or category.

Look at factors such as the impact the return rate has on your profits, and think about whether you should charge customers the cost of returns or cover them yourself.

Your return policy should help your online store stay profitable while meeting customer expectations.

5. Reverse Logistics 

When writing your return policy, take into account how your store handles reverse logistics.

Consider how you process returns, how return shipping works, and how customers are refunded, as well as your costs of processing and restocking returned items.

Take a look at how your store handles returns and see if that process can be streamlined and scaled. Consider using an automated returns management system to streamline your returns process, reduce logistics costs, and save time and energy.

6. Laws and Regulations

Many countries and states have laws regarding return policies, so make sure yours meets the requirements in your country.

Some laws address cancellations, while others are focused on making sure customers see the return policy on the store’s website.

For example, in New York, stores are legally required to advertise their return policies, and if they don’t, they must accept returns within 30 days.

Review your country or state’s return policy laws to ensure you are following them properly.

Step 2 – Write Down Your Return Conditions

Once you’ve decided on your return conditions, it is important to put them into writing. Writing everything down in one place will help you to organize and refine your return conditions, and ensure you’ve covered everything. 

Break your conditions down into different categories, such as: which items can be returned, how long customers have to return them, what documentation is required, etc. This will make it easier for you to structure your return policy. 

What Should a Return Policy Include?

When writing down your return conditions, make sure to include the following elements. This will help you make sure you’ve covered everything customers need to know to request a return.

Return Window

Specify the return window, that is, the timeframe within which customers must return their items.

The return window should be clearly defined and long enough to provide customers with enough time to try out the product, decide if they want to keep it, and initiate a return if it does not meet their needs or expectations. 

While there is no right or wrong length of time for a return window, many eCommerce stores use 30 days as a standard. However, every eCommerce store should take its own considerations into account when deciding on a return window. This can include the types of products, how often they are returned, and anything else that might affect your return window length. 

There are stores with 14-day return windows, stores with 365-day return windows, and everything in between. ReturnGO data shows that the most common return window is 30 days, and that very few stores have a return window smaller than 14 days. 

It’s important to remember that you get to define your store’s return window based on your business needs and considerations.

You may want to experiment with different return windows in order to strike a balance between establishing trust and preventing return fraud.

Whatever length of time you choose to define for your store, make sure to be clear about the definition of your return window. When does the return window begin? When an order is shipped or once it’s delivered?

For example, Zappos is an eCommerce brand that is known for its generous 365-day return policy. In spite of the higher return rates this leads to, customers end up spending more money and staying loyal to the brand since they know they can easily return anything that doesn’t fit.

Return Fees

Return fees are the costs associated with returning an item, such as return shipping costs or restocking fees.

Be clear about what types of fees your store charges and under what conditions. This will help ensure that customers understand what they are responsible for when returning an item.

For example, you may want to specify that there are no return fees if the item is returned within a certain amount of time or under a certain condition. 

Offering free returns or free return shipping can lead to increased sales and customer loyalty. On the other hand, it may also lead to an increase in return fraud and cost your store a considerable amount of money. 

86% of customers say they’re more likely to come back to an online store that offers free returns, and 75% say that free returns will make them buy more from a store over time.

When deciding whether to offer free returns, consider the associated costs. Depending on the value of the item and the size of the item, you might want to offer free returns on some items and not others.

While it can be costly for your store to cover the return shipping, handling, and restocking costs, it can pay off in the long run since happy and confident customers are more likely to buy from your store again.

Return Methods

In your return policy, define how customers can return their items.

There’s a variety of return methods you can offer, such as shipping back the products, returning them to a physical store location, or donating them.

  • Ship With Any Carrier – customers ship items back with a shipping carrier of their choice. 
  • Ship With Pre-Paid Label – customers ship items back using pre-paid return labels you provide.
  • Return to Store Location – customers bring items to your physical store instead of shipping them back. 
  • No Shipment Required – customers keep or donate the items instead of shipping them back. 

Different customers will prefer different return methods. Offering a range of options gives customers the ability to choose their preferred return method, but on the other hand, offering too many options can make it hard to choose.

By offering bonus credits or fees, you can encourage customers to choose the return methods that are most convenient and cost-effective for your store.

  • Incentivize customers to choose certain return methods by giving them bonus credit for choosing a certain return method. 

For example, offering an extra 10% for returning products to your store location encourages customers to choose that return method, saving you the cost of handling return shipping and handling.

  • Disincentivize customers from choosing certain return methods by charging fees for a certain return method. 

For example, charging a shipping fee for returning products with a pre-paid label can discourage customers from returning products that way, leading them to choose another method that is better for your store.

You can specify return methods in your return policy based on product, location, or customer. 

For example, if your physical store location is in California, you can define that only customers in California will be offered the option of returning their items to a store location.

Return Resolutions

Depending on your store policy, you can choose to offer refunds, exchanges, store credit, or gift cards as return resolutions. Define which option you will offer under which circumstances, as each has its benefits and downsides.

  • Refund

The simplest and most common form of return resolution offered by online stores is a refund, which involves refunding your customers for returned items. Refunds are direct and straightforward and are what many people think of first when considering returns.

  • Exchange

A great alternative to a refund is an exchange, where customers return their item and get a different one – either a different variant (size, color) or a completely different product. Exchanges can help retain revenue and keep customers.

  • Store Credit

Store credit is a return resolution that can keep customers with your store by giving customers account-based store credit which they can use to purchase another item from your store. Store credit keeps customers loyal and retains revenue that might have been spent elsewhere.

  • Gift Card

Offering a gift card as a return resolution means that customers receive a virtual gift card with the refunded amount on it, which they can use for future purchases and combine with other gift cards and discount codes. Gift cards are a great way to keep customers loyal to your store without being account-based.

Visit our blog to learn more about refund and exchange resolutions you can offer your customers and the pros and cons of each.

Special offers can incentivize and disincentivize customers to choose certain resolutions. For example, to encourage customers to ask for an exchange instead of a refund, you can offer free return shipping exclusively for exchanges.

Defining exactly what return resolutions you offer and under what conditions lets your customers know exactly what they will receive if they request a return, and what their options are.

Conditions for Accepting Returns

Set clear expectations for your customers by defining what condition items must be in to be returned. Do the products need to be undamaged? With the original tags on?

Make it clear which items are and aren’t eligible to be returned, and what conditions they must be in to be returned.

Specify if products must be returned unopened, in their original packaging, or with the tag still on, and if customers need an authorization number, a shipping address, or a receipt to request a return.

Additionally, define which items are not eligible for a return, such as clearance items, undergarments, or customized items.

Clearly defining the conditions for returning items can help reduce return fraud because people will know that if they try returning something that doesn’t meet those conditions, they won’t receive a refund.

Process for Requesting a Return

Lay out the steps customers will need to take to request a return and what the return process will look like so that customers know what to expect. 

Use a self-service return portal so that customers can easily request returns and you can process them without manually handling emails or phone calls. Within your return policy, include a link to your return portal or explain exactly how customers should request a return. 

Clearly outline all the steps customers need to follow to request a return, as well as what to expect once their return request has been approved, how long it will take for them to receive their refund or replacement item, and what they will need to do with the returned item.

Being transparent about your return process will help build trust with your customers and prevent misunderstandings.

Step 3 – Draft Your Return Policy

Once you’ve decided on and written down your return conditions, it’s time to draft your return policy and put those conditions into a format.

There are two main ways to create a return policy:

1. Use a free return policy generator to automatically generate a return policy.

2. Manually input your return policy into a template.

1. Automatically Generate a Return Policy

ReturnGO’s return policy generator takes the information you give about your return conditions and automatically generates a return policy in a suitable format. 

Automated return policies are quick and convenient, and save you time while ensuring everything has been covered with minimum effort.

The downside to using an automated return policy generator is that you don’t have much control over the layout of the return policy. If you want to customize your return policy to fit your brand style and language, you might prefer to write out your return policy yourself.

2. Write Out Your Return Policy Yourself

If you prefer to write out your return policy yourself instead of using a return policy generator, you can do so without too much difficulty.

The easiest way to write a return policy is to take a layout from a free return policy template

With a template as the basic structure, you can customize your return policy by adding relevant sections and adjusting font and color styles.

Make sure to include all your return conditions in a way that makes sense and is easy to understand. Format your return policy with headers and bullet points, and use a clear font that’s easy to read.

Once you’re done writing out your return policy, read through it one last time as if you were a customer, see if there are any questions left unanswered, and add any information that is missing.

Step 4 – Edit and Proof Your Return Policy

After you’ve drafted your return policy, it’s important to review it and make sure it’s clear, easy to read, and reflects your brand.

Use Easy-to-Understand Language

Write your return policy in simple language to make it easy to read. Help customers quickly and easily understand the return process. Customers should be able to look at the return policy and immediately know what to expect from the return process. 

To help customers understand the return process, don’t use confusing jargon or make it too complicated. Your return policy should be clear and concise, explaining your return process in detail without being too long-winded. 

Reflect Your Brand Values and Voice

When writing your return policy, make sure it reflects your brand values and voice. Keep your tone consistent with the rest of your brand, use the same words used on the rest of your site, and use your brand’s colors and fonts.

82% of customers want to buy from stores that share their values. Your return policy should convey your store’s values and priorities and reassure customers that they are in the right place.

For example, if your store has a focus on sustainability, make sure to reflect that in your return policy with green return shipping options or “donate the item” return resolutions.

Having a branded return policy instead of just a generic one makes customers trust your store more and keeps your messaging consistent throughout the customer experience.

Make Sure it’s Scannable

In today’s world of TikTok and Instagram, people’s attention spans are shrinking. If it takes more than a few seconds to scan and understand your return policy page, customers are likely to get discouraged and leave. 

Create a return policy that’s easy to scan. Use bolding, headers, and bullet points to break up the page and make it easy to skim.

Start with the most important information so that even if customers don’t read through the whole policy, they’ll understand the most important points.

Be Clear on the Next Steps

Make it clear what customers need to do in order to return an item. Provide a link to your return portal, and let them know what to expect during the return process.

Explain the steps customers must take to request a return, how long it will take them to receive a refund or replacement product, and what the return requirements are.

After reading your return policy, customers should know exactly what to expect from the return process, without any confusion or misunderstandings.

What to Avoid in a Return Policy

When writing a return policy, it can be easy to overcomplicate things and confuse customers. Here are some common mistakes to avoid when writing your return policy.

Don’t Be Too Technical

Make sure your return policy isn’t too technical. Write as if your customers have never returned an item before – don’t assume they know anything about returns. 

Use clear, straightforward language and break everything down into simple steps. Avoid using technical jargon or terms customers might not be familiar with.

Avoid Ambiguities

Be straightforward and transparent with your customers. Your return policy should be clear and without ambiguity.

Make customers fully aware of the terms and conditions associated with returning a product before they make a purchase. Your return policy should be straightforward with no ambiguity or confusion in what is expected of customers in order to return a product. 

Providing a clear and transparent return policy helps build customer trust and loyalty, as customers are more likely to feel confident in their purchase, knowing they can easily return items if necessary. 

Avoid Grammatical Errors

Make sure your return policy is grammatically correct, as a return policy with grammatical errors is likely to be perceived as unprofessional.

It can make your store appear less trustworthy if your return policy contains grammatical errors.

Use a grammar-checker such as Grammarly to ensure your return policy is error-free.

Make Sure There are No Formatting Inconsistencies

It is important to format your return policy consistently to make it appear professional and to make it easy for customers to understand.

Use consistent capitalization for headings and proper nouns, as well as consistent spacing and list types (bullet points, numbers, etc). You can use formatting such as bolding and italics to make words stand out, but make sure to use them consistently and in a way that makes sense.

Avoid formatting inconsistencies in your return policy as they will reflect negatively on your store.

Step 5 – Publish Your Return Policy

When your return policy is ready, publish it on your store site. Add links everywhere so customers can easily find it. Make it impossible to miss. 

Where to Display Your Return Policy

Display your return policy everywhere you interact with customers. 

Some of the places you can link to your return policy include:

  • Website footer
  • Website header
  • Checkout page
  • Emails
  • Product pages

Include a link to your return policy in the footer and/or header of your website so that customers can easily find your return policy no matter what page they’re on. 

Additionally, consider including a brief summary of your return policy on each item’s product page, to make it clear what your return policy is before customers place an order.

Make sure that your return policy is clearly visible wherever you interact with customers.

By making your eCommerce return policy easily accessible, you can establish trust and transparency with your customers and ensure a smooth return process.

Step 6 – Implement Your Return Policy

Once your return policy is in place, you need to make sure that you have a system for implementing and upholding it.

An effective way to implement your store’s return policy is by using an automated returns management system such as ReturnGO.

ReturnGO automatically implements your store’s return policy using a self-service return portal, where customers are offered return methods and resolutions based on the return conditions you define in your policy.

Manually implementing a return policy can take a lot of time, effort, and manpower. By automating your returns process, you can uphold your store’s return policy conditions while freeing up your team for other tasks.

Step 7 – Review and Update Regularly

Lastly, it is important to review and update your eCommerce return policy on a regular basis.

Make sure that your return policy is up-to-date, accurately reflects your brand values, and accounts for any changes to your products or services.

By reviewing your return policy regularly, you’ll be able to keep up with changes in your store and customer behavior and ensure that your customers have a positive return experience.

The 7-Step Process of Writing a Return Policy

Before we wrap up, let’s take a moment to review the steps involved in writing a return policy:

1. Prepare to write your return policy

  • Decide on answers to questions 

2. Write down your return conditions

  • Make sure to include all the conditions

3. Draft your return policy

  • Use a return policy generator or a template

4. Edit and proof your return policy

  • Make sure it’s clear and formatted correctly

5. Publish your return policy on your site

  • Clearly display your return policy anywhere customers will see it

6. Implement your return policy

  • Use an automated return system to effectively implement your return policy

7. Review and update regularly

  • Keep your return policy up-to-date

Set Clear Expectations With a Well-Written Return Policy

A clearly-defined return policy sets expectations with customers and shows that your business is professional and reliable.

Follow the steps laid out in this guide in order to write an effective return policy that is easy to understand and represents your store in the best way possible.

Include all the information customers need about the return process, including how long they have to return items, what condition the items need to be in, and how they should go about requesting a return.

Writing a return policy can be easier than it seems – by following a step-by-step process and thinking it through carefully, you can create a return policy that drives sales, increases customer trust, and prevents fraud.

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