eCommerce return policies: dos and don’ts

23rd July 2013

Not including some form of return policy that abides by Australian Consumer Law and  makes it easy for consumers could lead to a loss in sales.

Retailers beware, Australian internet shoppers are a savvy bunch. They don’t just look at the products on offer, their availability, cost and delivery. They also want to know about how returns are handled. A fair return policy will inspire confidence and show your business’s commitment in customer service.

While customers are becoming more familiar with buying products online without seeing them in person, the dynamic is significantly different from bricks-and-mortar shopping. And if they’re buying from you online for the first time, clearly explained and fair return policies that are equal to or better than your competition can assuage some of their fears of doing business with you.

As you would in a bricks-and-mortar store, an online store is no different and should offer shoppers a refund, replacement or repair for the product they purchased depending on the circumstances. There are many reasons for a return, for example, the colour seems different to how it appeared on-screen, it’s the wrong fit, they’ve changed their mind, or the product is faulty. And not only should you clearly explain to customers your policies, you need to make sure your policy is front and centre of your site in order to build confidence among potential customers.

In addition to having a returns policy, ways to prevent returns should also be considered. Accurate product descriptions with as much detail as possible and photos of the product from various angles are just the starting point. Provide specifications where relevant, if possible videos of the product, and, if the product can be enhanced by additional purchases, make that clear.

Below we give examples of some sites where they successfully (or unsuccessfully) convert customers due to the way products are displayed and what they offer under their return policy.

Fashion stores

A quick summary of the sites we looked at and what they offer around returns:

Site Do they have a Returns Policy? Is it easy to find the Returns Policy? Refund, exchange or credit only?* How many days to return product? Cost to return product? Value adds
Asos

www.asos.com/au

Yes Yes Refunds only 28 Postage cost  None
The Iconic

www.theiconic.com.au

Yes Yes All 100 Free - If requesting an exchange, Iconic will hold that item for 14 days.
– If the shopper chooses to receive credit rather than cash back, Iconic will refund them 110% store credit
Birdsnest

www.birdsnest.com.au

Yes Yes All 365 Postage cost (if getting an exchange, no extra postage to deliver the replacement product) If requesting an exchange, Birdsnest will hold that item for the shopper

*This is referring to products that are not faulty. If the product is faulty, all stores will give shoppers a full refund.

The fashion industry online is very competitive not only around pricing for clothing, but also with their returns. Out of the three industries we looked at, the fashion industry offered the best arrangements for handling returns. One store, The Iconic, has even made its returns quite competitive when compared to Asos and Birdsnest.

Asos

www.asos.com/au

Asos’s Return Policy can be found on the footer of the site. Asos handles its returns simply: by only offering a refund. There are no exchanges, replacement or credit. Shoppers have 28 days from receiving their order to return items.

A quick rundown of their return policies are as follows:

  • Items must be returned within 28 days of receiving the original order
  • To get a replacement shoppers will need to place a new order
  • Customers will be repaid the price they paid when they purchased the item, including sales items
  • The customer must ensure the item is packed and delivered securely. Asos will not be held responsible if the goods get damaged on their return to the warehouse
  • A returns form and label is always enclosed in each package delivered to the customer to make the process of returning items not only easier for the customer, but also for the company
  • Asos will reimburse the shopper for delivery of a return if the entire order was faulty or incorrect
  • Shoppers receive a confirmation email once Asos has received the returned goods and will notify when the refund will be processed
  • Asos responds to all inquiries within six hours

In addition to the returns policy, Asos displays its products at multiple angles. Asos also — in particular with the clothing range — shows models wearing that article of clothing as they walk down the runway, an explanation is given on what materials are used for the product, how to look after it (eg, hand wash or machine washable), and gives the sizing details that the model is wearing on the catwalk.

The Iconic

www.theiconic.com.au

The Iconic’s Return Policy is clearly visible to the shopper. It’s located at the top of the site’s page where it simply states in a link “Free Returns for 100 Days”, with details provided when the user clicks through.

As the link suggests, The Iconic gives shoppers 100 days from the day of purchase to return the item and best of all, shipping it back to the company is free.

It has three simple basic rules for returns:

  • It has to be returned within 100 days of purchase
  • The clothing must be unworn and unused with original tags still attached
  • Item must be in the original packaging, in the original condition

To return an article, customers have to login to their account on The Iconic site, select the order they want to return and hit the ‘Return’ link. Customers will then be prompted to print a returns form that must be attached to the return parcel. No postage required, just drop off the package at any Australia Post office.

Unlike Asos, The Iconic offers exchanges where it will hold the item for 14 days until the company receives the returned item.

The Iconic also offers customers the option of 110% store credit as a refund rather than cash back. If selected, the shopper will receive a voucher code for the total purchase price plus 10%.

Birdsnest

www.birdsnest.com.au

Similar to The Iconic, Birdsnest has its Returns Policy at the top of the site’s page, where it states “365 Day No Hassle Returns”.

The “No Hassles” 365-day return policy allows shoppers to choose if they want a refund or exchange.

Birdsnest’s return policy is as follows:

  • The shopper needs to fill out the returns form that is included in their order confirmation email. The form allows the user to choose if they want credit, money back or exchange the item.
  • Shopper pays for return postage, but Birdsnest will pay for postage to the shopper if a replacement is being requested
  • If a product is faulty, Birdsnest will pay the postage for its return

Just like The Iconic, when the customer has chosen to exchange the item, Birdsnest will hold the replacement for as long as it takes until they receive the returned product.

Booksellers

In the case of booksellers, we’re going to focus solely on the sale of books and e-books, even though booksellers also sell electronic goods such as e-readers, CDs and DVDs.  Electronic returns will be looked at in the “Electronic goods” section further below.

A quick summary of the sites we looked at and what they offer around returns:

Site Do they have a Returns Policy? Is it easy to find the Returns Policy?* Refund, exchange or credit only?* How many days to return product? Cost to return product? Value adds
Collins Booksellers

www.collinsbooks.com.au

Yes Yes Credit only 14 Postage cost  None
Bookworld

www.bookworld.com.au

Yes Yes Refunds only 30 N/A None
Booktopia

www.booktopia.com.au

Yes No Credit only 2 or 5 (depending on circumstance) Postage cost  None

*This is referring to products that are not faulty. If the product is faulty, all stores will give shoppers a full refund.

The three bookseller sites we looked at do the bare minimum around returns. This may be due to the items being sold, as they are books that are purchased based on author, title and subject, with the option in some cases to choose between soft cover, hardcover or e-book. If someone was to return the product, it’d be because the book is damaged, missing pages or something has gone wrong with the print. Another excuse may be that they mistakenly bought the wrong book or they’ve changed their mind.

But is that a good reason to not have a returns policy? No, absolutely not. So read on to see how the three booksellers we investigated handle returns. Other booksellers we considered for this section were Amazon, AbeBooks and Book Depository, but decided to focus on Australian sites that may not have as big a budget to handle returns as those three companies.

Collins Booksellers

www.collinsbooks.com.au

Collins Booksellers’ Returns Policy can be found at the footer of the site and can’t be missed if the shopper is looking for it.

Collins makes customers go through a few steps before a return is accepted. This method may discourage customers to buy items on a whim, and ensures that if something is to be returned, the customer has no choice but to buy something else from the company. Of course, if the product is faulty, the customer will be getting their money back.

The steps customers need to make, according to Collins’ Returns Policy, is to contact customer service within 14 days of receiving the item and give a reason for the return to then get authorisation to return the product (there is no mention on the site on how long this process takes). Collins will then issue a gift card for the value of the product, not including delivery.

Bookworld

www.bookworld.com.au

Bookworld’s Returns Policy is located on the site’s footer and can’t be missed by the shopper if they’re actively looking for it.

Shoppers have 30 days of receiving the item to return the product. Bookworld credits the customer’s accounts if they’ve changed their mind or if the product is faulty. In both circumstances, customers are told to contact customer service via the site’s Contact page before returning the item.

However, Bookworld does not offer exchanges — customers are encouraged to purchase the item separately while their returns are being processed.

E-books are non-refundable.

Postage charges are not mentioned in the Returns Policy.

Booktopia

www.booktopia.com.au

Booktopia does not have its Refund Policy appear on the home page nor at the footer of the site. The shopper has to actively look for the policy by going to the site’s Help Centre, then reading through the list of options in the left-hand column of the page until they come across the Return Policy.

Once the shopper finds it, the Return Policy on the site is very simply stated and causes no confusion. Customers must call the company before returning any products to discuss the reason for the return.

Customers will receive store credit if they’ve made a mistake or changed their mind — and Booktopia will not pay for postage of returned goods. The shopper also has only 2 business days from receiving their package to notify Booktopia that they wish to return the item because they’ve changed their mind, ordered the wrong product or that it’s faulty. If the customer was sent a product that they did not order, then Booktopia will require notification within 5 business days of delivery.

Booktopia states that they will not refund the product if it arrives at its warehouse damaged due to careless packaging.

Electronic goods

Unlike the fashion or book industry, returns aren’t as simple or as clear cut when it comes to electronic goods. So how are current electronic businesses handling returns online?

A quick summary of the sites we looked at and what they offer around returns:

Site Do they have a Returns Policy? Is it easy to find the Returns Policy?* Refund, exchange or credit only? How many days to return product? Cost to return product? Value adds
Mobicity

www.mobicity.com.au

Yes Yes Refund, exchange 7 From $35 + postage  None
Kogan

www.kogan.com/au

Yes No Refund 14 Postage cost None
JB Hi-Fi

www.jbhifionline.com.au

Yes No Refund 30+ Nothing, you can return the product in-store None

*This is referring to products that are not faulty. If the product is faulty, all stores will give shoppers a full refund.

Mobicity

www.mobicity.com.au

While not visible on the home page, the shopper can find Mobicity’s Returns Policy when clicking on “Questions” in the main navigation bar, which will drop down a list of options – one of which is the Returns Policy.

This company is a good example of where you need to read through the returns policy carefully. When it comes to electronic goods, it’s not a simple case of returning or exchanging the product because the shopper changed their mind.

If the shopper’s item hasn’t been shipped yet, they can request a full refund or exchange without any penalties. If the item has been shipped, then the refund will be treated under Mobicity’s “unopened box” return policy.

Returns will incur fees starting from $35.

Kogan

www.kogan.com/au

Finding Kogan’s return policy is a bit difficult to find on the site. It’s hidden under the Terms and Conditions, and then the shopper has to scroll down a lot of text to find the 10th item listed that addresses Refunds and Returns.

However, in saying that, the company offers customers a 14-day money back guarantee.

JB Hi-Fi

www.jbhifionline.com.au

Due to the layout and quite busy JB Hi-Fi website, it can be difficult to spot the Refunds Policy, which is located below the main navigation bar in the left column. When a user clicks through, they’re taken to a page that explains returns, repairs and refunds based on Australian Consumer Law. The shopper has to read through four paragraphs before finding a link that takes them through to JB Hi-Fi’s Returns Policy.

JB Hi-Fi’s Return Policy is an eight-page booklet in PDF explaining the consumer’s refund and warranty rights, which covers both the online and bricks-and-mortar stores.

Shoppers have 30 days from receiving their electronic product to return the goods if it hasn’t been used or opened, or if it’s faulty. If the shopper is returning CDs, DVDs, games or computer software, they have 90 days from receiving the goods, so long as they are unused and unopened, or if they’re faulty.

Conclusion

When considering a returns policy for your website, ask yourself: would this give me confidence to buy? And remember, just because your business is online it doesn’t mean you can cut corners around what a physical store offers around returns. In fact, it’s more like the opposite.

–   Have a Returns Policy and make it easy to find for shoppers

–   Clearly outline the procedure for returns, exchanges or repairs

–   If you’re requesting that the customer call a hotline, then explain what the procedures are so there are no surprises

–   Provide as much information as you can about the products to minimise returns