How to write an online returns policy

18 Apr 2017

According to Royal Mail Group’s 2016 ‘Delivery Matters’ report, 25% of online shoppers have returned an item. Clear and friendly returns policies are a must for any online retailer, as they are one of the key factors that influence an online shopper’s decision to purchase in the first place: 13% of those responding to Royal Mail Group’s survey said that they had not clicked through to pay for an order because they were unhappy with the returns policy.

GOV.UK outlines the legal requirements for when a retailer must accept returns and give refunds here, but consider how your returns policy – and its presentation – could go above and beyond to exceed customers’ expectations.

To help you create and refine your returns policy we have listed some tips below and given some examples of how online retailers have sought to address these points in their own policies.

Make your returns policy easy to find

Asos’ returns policy can be accessed via several different areas of the page. Clicking on ‘Help’ brings up a Customer Service page screenshot showing the customer care page on the Asos website Hovering over ‘Returns and Refunds’ here brings up a neat little mini-menu with clickable options: screenshot from the customer care page on the asos website, showing returns help menu  

Visitors can also access the policy via ‘Returns’ on the footer navigation bar as well as the ‘Free Delivery Worldwide’ banner half way down the homepage. By presenting the main features of its returns policy as ‘headlines’ just beneath the primary navigation bar Boden promotes the benefits of shopping with them to the customer but enables the visitor to click through quickly too:

screenshot of the Boden site homepage

Give a clear time frame

For online, mail and telephone orders, sellers must offer customers a refund if they tell the retailer within 14 days of receiving their goods that they want to cancel. Most larger online retailers allow 28 days, or even longer. Boden’s ‘no quibble’ returns policy gives customers 3 months to return an item for refund or exchange, and up to a year to return an item if the customer is unhappy (for a valid reason) in order to get an account credit.

Consider extending time frames over the busy Christmas period, to make allowance for those organised souls who buy their gifts well in advance.

Make your returns policy easy to understand

When trying to explain their returns policy, many retailers fall into the trap of ‘business-speak’. By using plain English, and adding a human touch, you can avoid this pitfall. Asos states ‘We try hard to accept all returns and they don’t need to be in the original box or bag, as long as they are securely packed’, which instantly makes them sound approachable and customer friendly.

Boden must get a high number of repeat returners thanks to their generous returns scheme, and their policy includes typically no-nonsense wording designed to put these off:

screenshot of the Boden return policy

Be positive

State first and foremost what you can do for the customer – not what you can’t. Amazon uses illustrations to help visually explain the 4 steps required to return an item: screenshot of amazon's return page

Make it Free!

There may be cost involved in accepting returns, but lots of online stores offer free returns – and many customers now expect it as standard. Ensure you communicate your free returns at the top of your homepage, and on your product pages too: screenshot from Zara site showing prominent free returns

Make the process easy


Including a paper copy of your returns policy and form in the item packaging is easy and cheap to do and can save customers hassle in printing.   Give multiple – and multichannel – returns options. Asos, for example,  offers a huge number of options for returns, bullet pointing the main benefits of each.

screenshot showing Asos returns options

John Lewis breaks its multiple options down well into a chart depending on the item size

: screenshot showing John Lewis returns options

screenshot from John Lewis website showing details for the Royal Mail returns option

Each option has a further breakdown giving details on when to use and how to return. It may be more convenient for customers to return to a bricks and mortar store so ensure this is an option where available; they might just buy something else during their visit.

Keep customers in the loop

Communicate with your customers so that they know when you have received their item for processing, and when the refund (or exchange) is arranged.

If your returns are taking longer to process than usual because your team is under more pressure, consider adding a note to your communications. Asos added a note about being ‘busier than usual’ to their website recently: screenshot of the returns page on the Asos site, showing a delay notification at the top of the page

Exceed expectations

Finally, in this busy online world, consider how your policy may make you stand out from your competitors.

Could you do ‘a Boden’ and offer a generous amount of time for returns? Or make like John Lewis, whose brilliant myJohnLewis ‘Kitchen Drawer’ facility means that all customers with a loyalty card automatically have receipts stored to their account whenever they purchase online and instore (when their card is scanned); so no need to keep a drawer full of paper copies.

Or add value by thinking outside the box: Even though Amazon cannot accept gifts back without an order number (and refunds the giver directly – rather than the recipient) it does offer some ‘Did you know’ text that upsells its marketplace facility and means that from the recipient’s point of view, all may not be lost:

screenshot showing Amazon returns policy

Perhaps it might also be beneficial to up-sell Amazon’s shareable wishlist facility here, to help users avoid such gift mistakes in the future.

In summary

Whether you are launching an ecommerce brand or selling via an online marketplace it is crucial to get your returns policy – and its presentation - spot on. In the short term you may have lost a sale but in the long term, you could win repeat business and build loyal advocates for your brand.

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