Devising an Effective Return Policy for Your eCommerce Site

In a perfect world, your customers would never return a single product purchase from your eCommerce store. They wouldn’t need to. Every purchase would offer exactly what they were looking for, every product would be manufactured and delivered flawlessly.

We also wouldn’t see an 88 percent shopping cart abandonment rate (Statista/SaleCycle). Or a meaningfully competitive market. Everyone would succeed at everything.

This is, as you’ve probably surmised, rather unrealistic. No matter what sort of industry your eCommerce site serves, there will be people who want to return their purchases. You need to make it as easy as possible for them to do so.

That may, at first glance, seem counterproductive. Consider, though, that even if you yourself have a great deal of integrity, not everyone does. Most customers have likely been burned by a bad purchase before — an intuitive return policy demonstrates that you understand this, and moreover signifies a certain level of respect for your customers.

That respect is far more valuable than any lead

A well-thought-out return policy has the potential to lead to higher sales, and higher sales mean a better valuation. Simply offering a return policy isn’t enough, however. In a 2017 survey from Narvar, the customer experience specialist identified the following return policy characteristics as deal breakers:

  • Restocking fees.
  • Return shipping fees.
  • Too short of a return window.
  • Unable to return without authorization.
  • Unable to return to the store.

In other words, if your returns process is too cumbersome or requires the customer to pay more money on top of what they’ve already given you, it’s likely contributing to your cart abandonment rate. They’ve already purchased from you at this point, and they found something lacking about your product. It’s not their responsibility to make things right, it’s yours.

With that in mind, your return policy should possess the following characteristics.

No Packaging

Your customers shouldn’t have to wait for you to ship packaging to them, nor should they be required to deal with the process of printing off a shipping label. Again, your goal here is to make this as seamless as possible. This isn’t advice based solely on my own experience, either — in a survey published in October 2020, returns specialist Optoro found that 42.5 percent of shoppers in the United States feel that not requiring a box or label is the most important characteristic of a good return policy.

Note that if you’re giving them a shipping label for convenience’s sake, this does not apply. It’s when you require such factors for the return to be processed that there’s a problem.

Easy To Understand

Today’s consumers already have to deal with a constant barrage of confusing legalese. Your return policy should not add to that pile. The question of when and how they can return a product should be evident to them at a glance.

It should also be obvious that this is a policy written by you. Don’t simply copy and paste from somewhere else. Most people will notice that level of laziness.

Finally, don’t try to hide your return policy. It should be accessible from anywhere on your website. More importantly, it should be made clear to your customers at the point of purchase.


Per delivery management software provider Metapack, over 63 percent of consumers read a return policy before making a purchase. Shoppers that don’t like what they see are highly likely to abandon their cart —and 56 percent acknowledged that they’ve done so in the past. Conversely, 62 percent of shoppers would give repeat business to a brand that offers free returns or exchanges.

The numbers speak for themselves here. Allow yourself to eat the cost of shipping and handling on returns. In the long-term, this will only benefit you.


Returns need to be just as simple as your checkout process. Don’t force people to create an account, and don’t try to push them into sharing more information than is strictly necessary. The order number should be the only information necessary for a customer to start the returns process.

Accounts for Delivery Time

Plenty of brands offer time-gated return policies. But what many of them don’t say is that delivery time is included in this window. This means that if there’s some problem with the mail — something which is now distressingly common — the customer is functionally out of luck.

The window for a return should only start once the product is in the customer’s hand. And the return should be treated as complete once the product has been mailed out. You don’t necessarily need to refund the customer right away, but you do need to allow for mail delays.

Flexible Shipping

I see many returns policies that require a customer to use a specific courier or demand that they mail back their products in a specific way. This is a mistake. Just as you should offer multiple purchase options at checkout, you should also be flexible when it comes to returns.

It shouldn’t matter how the customer ships their purchase back to you, only that they did so.


It goes without saying that your business should offer returns on damaged or defective products, certainly. But this isn’t the only reason a customer might want to rescind a purchase. Maybe the product didn’t quite live up to their expectations, or maybe they no longer need it.

Either way, you need to allow for this. Most businesses offer a 30- or 60-day return policy, but you can make this window as extensive as possible.

Accounts for Bad Actors

As with any business, there are going to be people who try to abuse any loopholes in your return policy. Keep this in mind, and make it clear that products that have been intentionally damaged or destroyed through improper use are not returnable. That way, you won’t alienate any of your actual customers.

Final Thoughts

How your business handles returns is just as important as its checkout process. Devise a policy with your audience in mind. More importantly, make sure that policy works well in practice, and that the process is as intuitive and streamlined as possible.

About the Author

Christopher Moore is the Chief Marketing Officer at Quiet Light, which specializes in helping clients sell their internet-based businesses. Additionally, he founded Gadabout Media LLC to inspire, educate, and unite others by creating visually stunning content for clients.