returns policyA study into the returns processes of 100 online retailers in the UK has found that returning goods bought online is becoming more difficult for customers.

When it comes to allowing customers to return goods without hassle, some retailers have a lot to learn, with five making it virtually impossible for shoppers to return goods.

This is the verdict of Snow Valley's Online Returns and Refunds report, which looked at the returns processes of 100 UK e-tailers.

The results weren't too impressive:

  • 55% of the retailers gave no choice about return methods.
  • A quarter of retailers that insisted on using a courier to pick up the goods charged for collection.
  • Five retailers made it impossible to return items.
  • In 51% of cases, the customer had to pay the cost of returning goods.
  • Of pureplay online retailers, 71% made the customer pay to return goods.
  • Just 17% of retailers refunded the original delivery charge alongside the item.
  • A quarter of retailers enclosed no returns information packages.

Returns options offered by retailers:

Returns methods offered by retailers

If anything, the range of returns options on offer to online buyers is worse than in last year's report. Highly visible and flexible returns policies help engender trust in shoppers and can boost conversion rates, so what should retailers be doing?

Provide a hassle-free returns policy

It is not worth haggling over returns and risking the loss of repeat business from customers. If shoppers can see that you have a clear and flexible returns policy, they will be much more likely to buy from your site.

Provide the option of returning to a local store

For multi-channel retailers with chains of stores, then customers may find it more convenient to take their goods back there. This is an option provided by Next, while Littlewoods provides the convenience of local drop and collect services.

Display the returns policy clearly for shoppers

This can make the difference in the customer's mind when thinking about a purchase.  If they are unsure about how an item will look, how it will fit etc, then an easy and clearly displayed returns policy, as in this example from Webtogs, can clinch the sale.

Pay for postage

This is another way of making it easier for customers and increasing the likelihood that they will buy from you again.

Keep customers in the loop

Save customers the hassle of them having to contact you, and the time spent dealing with queries by providing confirmation when items have been received, when replacement items are sent out, and when refunds have been processed.

Place returns instructions in packages

Putting details of returns policies and procedures in with packaging will save customers having to search the website for instructions or phone customer services.

Provide more support for complex products

A recent survey found that, in the case of some electrical goods, customers were returning items because they didn't know how to use them. This can be avoided by educating customers about products and providing support once they have received them.

Graham Charlton

Published 9 March, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (4)



Recent experience with an online Argos order have reiterated to me once again the advantages of being able to go into a store and deal with people face to face; online it is easier for them to provide shoddy customer service. The additional expense of returning items means I only ever buy items that I am 100% sure that I want online, primarily books and cds.

over 9 years ago


S Howells

Customers need to handle requests to return better too e.g. I bought a size 12 dress and I am size 16 and it does not fit and I am returning it for a FUL refund

over 9 years ago


David Hamill

Just a quick tip on the accessibility of this article. I'd make that a proper HTML table rather than just slapping an image in there.

over 9 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Thanks David, I take your point.

over 9 years ago

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