Even if a customer has had an excellent experience with a retailer through the buying and delivery process, returns is one area where things can go wrong. 

Making the returns process easy and free for customers is one way to ensure they retain a positive impression of a retailer, even if the product wasn't suitable for them. This makes is more likely that they will return and make purchases in future. 

Charging for returns is one sure-fire way to annoy customers and deter them from future purchase, so I've been looking at etailers' returns policies to see which ones are doing this...

I recently purchased (well, my wife did...) a lamp shade from Graham & Green only to find that it was too big for the lamp when it arrived. Having checked the website I was advised to use the returns label and send the item back. 

I was forced to call customer services (which meant ten minutes in a call queue) and was then told they would collect the item and refund it, but would charge me £10 for this and deduct this from my £40 refund. 

I understand that Graham & Green has costs to cover, but such a hefty charge for a return is likely to make me think twice before ordering anything from that site again. 

The fact that this charge is not made clear in the returns policy is also annoying: 

Returns Graham&GReen

Retailers should do everything they can to minimise returns rates, by providing detailed product information, images, and product videos (the instructional product videos used by Simply Piste have done wonders for its returns rates), but a proportion of customers will still want to return items. 

This may be because clothes don't fit as well as they thought when they try them on, something just doesn't look right when they see it at home, or it may be an unwanted gift - and there'll be plenty of them this Christmas. 

While retailers have costs to cover, it may well be better to loom at average returns rates and factor this in to the costs of items and initial delivery charges rather than penalise customers for returning items.

I've been seeing how some online retailers handle this issue of returns...


For a multichannel retailer like Argos, the fact that customers can return items to their local store can make the process a lot easier for customers, and it is essential that multichannel retailers provide this option

For customers that prefer not to return items to a store, Argos makes it nice and easy. Customers simply need to call up within 30 days to arrange a free collection. This is how it should be done. 



Marks & Spencer has always had a no-hassle returns policy in its stores, and the online version is simple enough. The retailer offers free returns to stores or via freepost. Not as easy as having a collection arranged, but at least customers incur no costs. 

Returns m&s

John Lewis

The John Lewis returns policy is stricter, and will only refund the initial delivery charge if they are notified of a return within seven days of purchase. It isn't clear whether or not the costs of returning the item are covered by the retailer. 


Next will collect any items you need to return, but will charge you if you want a refund for all of the items in your order. At £3.99, at least this charge isn't too steep, and there is a free return to store option. 

returns next

Sports Direct

Sports Direct's returns policy, shown on its product pages, is one that could deter customers from a purchase. The tone seems pretty harsh, and customers returning items will be charged for the initial delivery, and will have to pay the costs of return themselves. 

returns sports direct


I like the fact that Webtogs uses its 'zero hassle' returns policy as a selling point. It displays this clearly on the homepage and product pages: 


There is a tiny bit of hassle though, as customers are charged £2.20 to return items, though at least this charge isn't too steep. 

Glasses Direct 

Glasses Direct is one company which has gained an excellent reputation for customer service, and its returns policy is as you would expect from such a retailer. 


Glasses Direct gets around the fact that customers cannot try glasses on before they buy with a free returns policy, prominently displayed on the website. 

Retailers need to work hard to retain customers, and a free returns policy is one way to achieve this. If customers know that they can return items if they need to, they're far more likely to make a purchase in the first place. 

If charges for returns are steep, or they have to work too hard to return items, then this negative experience means they may not use that retailer again, online or offline. Retailers need to weigh up the cost of covering returns charges against the risk of losing customers. 

Graham Charlton

Published 8 December, 2010 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 (11)

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Marty Hayes

Marty Hayes, Digital Director at Venture Stream

You'd think Free Returns would be a no-brainer. Ecommerce is supposed to simplify the shopping experience, enrich it, and put the power in the hands of the consumer. They should be able to shop their way, when they want, where they want, and returns should be no different. Free returns should be a must-have for all internet retailers, and free collections from customers must be what we all aspire to enable. One of the only disadvantages ecommerce has over bricks and mortar stores is that you cannot physically interact with products. Product descriptions, videos, UGC, reviews etc all go some way to eliminate doubt in customer's minds, reassure and reaffirm their purchase, but people will always want to return things. If you charge customers to do this, they're going to be a whole lot less likely to come back and spend more cash at your store, as the niggling doubt in the back of their mind that they may need to return their items, and be charged for the privilege might just prove too much for the fickle customer, and off they click to one of your competitors.

over 7 years ago



Not only is this really poor from a consumer perspective, but would be interesting to see how this policy stacks up with the distance selling regs, and the legal position on returns (any lawyers out there?), did you get your initial delivery charge refunded?  At any rate, £10 is a massive charge for collection, and this should not be a revenue stream for the company!

As a consumer though, I would definitely be put off buying from a site where it is a hassle for me to return something, unless I was certain I wouldn't have to return the items as I had bought previously etc.  I would be far more inclined to go and find the item on a site where no-quibble returns are standard.

over 7 years ago


Allen Bonde

Hi Graham - Nice post and very interesting topic. Totally agree that policies should be clear, and not punish customers for shopping online vs. in store. A decade ago my team at Extraprise actually did a series of studies looking at return policies of the major online retailers here in the States, see here: http://nyti.ms/eDKHY8 and here: http://shar.es/XrNhU. Back then a number of online stores had a LOT of work to do in making returns as easy for customers as it is to order. It looks like that's still the case today! cheers, Allen

over 7 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Gav - yes, the initial delivery charge hasn't been refunded either, so I've paid £15 for nothing. 

over 7 years ago



That's shocking these days, although I suspect not unique!  Not only is it a terrible customer experience, but it sounds to me like this, potentially, is in breach of the distance selling regs:

On the cancellation of a contract, any sum paid by the consumer must be repaid as soon as possible and, in any case, within 30 days of cancellation. The full price paid for the goods must be refunded and this includes the cost of delivery of the goods to the consumer.   

Something I fear is not always adhered to by all retailers in this space, but it's not often that this is looked into as far as I know, possibly worth bringing this up with them.

over 7 years ago


Hero Grigoraki, Client Services Director at Webgains.com

what is interesting is that despite the major uplift in sales that free returns provide, merchants are still holding back from offering them due to concerns over increased returns. Obviously, returns are a pain to process and require a lot of time from customer service and warehouse staff. Moreover, with free returns, customers have the tendency to order multiple items of different size or colour with every intention of returning the majority of the order. As valid as these concerns are, the fact of the matter is that free returns (especially when combined with free delivery) drastically improve customer affinity to the brand and increase conversion rates.

over 7 years ago


Gravytrain Limited

I purchased a Northface coat recently, which when delivered was absolutely huge. Although they dont charge, I've had to pay £20 to send the item back to Belgium to get my refund. I've since purcahsed the coat in a smaller size from another retailer as the Northface website didnt have it in stock. It's a great coat but it's cost me £20 extra on an already pricey £250 coat :(

over 7 years ago


Tony Allen

A nice idea in practice and certainly one the large retailers can employ. However for the smaller businesses operating online, it's simply a matter of not being cost effective. One factor I have alway employed in e-commerce is free delivery, the price you see is the price you pay. For me this is what improves a customer experience, but that shipping cost has to be factored into your profit, add in a potential return cost and then another shipping cost for a replacement item and you're not making anything. I'd happily consider free returns if I had the clout of an Asos or an Amazon, but then if I did, I'd be lording up in the sunshine rather than typing this :)

over 7 years ago



Can see both sides, but it's the age-old toss up between the short term profits and longer term growth.  IIRC, some of the earlier mentioned companies did promos with free deliveries and returns, and it's always a toss up between the cost and the return, and always will be.  In terms of smaller retailers, whilst it will initially hit the profit margin, they just might find that it opens up a huge new audience who were hesitant to buy before, and take them from a smaller retailer, to a retailer with pockets deep enough to run this as a standard part of their offering, thanks to the increae in conversion & new customers. If in any doubt though, do some controlled testing to see the effect on returns figures, order numbers etc....then take a more informed decision.

over 7 years ago



Just had a very unpleasant experience with Next. Apparently Next won't return any goods out of seven days time. So if by any chances you forget to return or exchange goods within that period there is nothing you can do about the unwanted item. How lame it is!!!

over 7 years ago



I believe that it is imperative that the policies are clear. In my experience I have had no really negative experiences in returning items, but have avoided ordering from some sites when i was questioning the returns policy.

about 7 years ago

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