Returns policy

This is a discretionary returns policy for an online store. The policy can be used to communicate any discretionary (i.e. extra-statutory) rights a customer may have to return physical products to the store.

The returns policy sets out discretionary or extra-statutory rights. It does not cover statutory rights to return products. For example, it does not cover the special 14-day cooling off period that benefits consumers under the distance selling laws. (Although the terms and conditions of sale template published on this website does cover certain statutory rights, including the distance selling rules.)

The key sections of the returns policy set out: (i) the basic entitlement to return products; (ii) a procedure for requesting returns; (iii) a list of exceptions and exclusions; and (iv) a refund process.

If you are looking for a comprehensive set of documents for an ecommerce site, please see our online shop packs.

*If you wish to use this returns policy template without including the credit text ("This document is based on a Docular template ...") then please buy a licence on our Website Contracts site.

Do I need a returns policy?

Some form of returns policy will help you to comply with applicable law – such the distance selling rules and other consumer rights legislation. In addition to legal compliance, a returns policy may help with customer communications and confidence. A generous set of policies will promote customer satisfaction and may in some markets constitute a competitive advantage. They might also reduce customer support overhead.

Is a returns policy the same thing as a refund policy?

These terms are often used interchangeably, although the emphasis is different. For instance, for a services you would usually refer to a refund policy rather than a returns policy, as there may be nothing to return. If goods are to be exchanged upon return, you might also call the document an exchange policy – but you need to be careful here not to abridge consumer rights.

How do I write a returns policy?

You can write a policy yourself, but you will need some legal expertise to do so – especially if the provisions of the policy will interact with consumer rights rules and other legal protections. Usually, you would be better using a template prepared by a lawyer or – if it is commercially justifiable – asking a lawyer to prepare the document for you.

Why does this template not cover both statutory and non-statutory rights?

There are few good reasons for treating statutory and non-statutory rights separately.

First, in general it is not possible to abridge statutory rights. Specifying ways of exercising statutory rights will often amount to just such an abridgement. Accordingly, if the returns policy were extended to cover statutory and non-statutory rights, the specific returns instructions would to some extent need to be framed as requests or suggestions.

Second, while one of the main purposes of offering a non-statutory returns policy is to help with marketing efforts, businesses should not present basic statutory protections as being a special benefit of dealing with them. If you combine your policies on statutory and discretionary returns, you risk accidentally tripping over this prohibition.

Third, in my experience, a combined policy covering both complex statutory rights and broad-brush contractual rights (which usually depend to a significant degree on retail discretion) is very often a messy synthesis requiring high-level legal expertise to write and interpret.

There are situations where a combined policy is appropriate. For instance, if a discretionary policy is changing cooling-off periods but otherwise closely tracking the distance selling rights, then it makes sense to offer a combined policy.

What other legal documents might I need?

We supply a range of ecommerce documents via Website Contracts. Versions of each of these documents are also available free of charge on this website.

Title Description Get the document on…
T&Cs of sale Contractual provisions regulating the B2B and/or B2C sale of goods via a website. Get on Website Contracts
Delivery policy Before you receive returns, you will have to make deliveries. Get on Website Contracts
Website terms of use Terms covering the use of an ecommerce site (as opposed to transactions on an ecommerce site). Get on Website Contracts
Privacy and cookies policy An adapted version of our standard privacy policy and cookies policy, designed for ecommerce sites. Get on Website Contracts

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