Returns policies

A returns policy is a legal document setting out the rights a customer has to return products purchased from a supplier. For an example of a returns policy, see our template document:

In most jurisdictions, there are certain statutory rights for customers to return products to suppliers, and usually the supplier will not be permitted to abridge (or at least fully abridge) those rights by means of a return policy or other contractual document.

The rights of return are particularly strong in the case of consumers. For instance, consumers in the UK benefit from a right to cancel distance contracts (such as online contracts) under the Distance Selling Regulations. In a typical case a consumer may exercise this right by giving written notice of cancellation to the supplier at any time within 7 working days following the date of receipt of the products. An online seller cannot reduce this period or otherwise cut-back this right using a returns policy.

As well as being a legal document, a returns policy may be seen as a marketing tool. Many retailers – particularly large retailers – offer customers rights to return products that go well beyond the statutory minima.

A returns policy will usually cover the following matters:

  • the types of products that may be returned;
  • the general circumstances in which those products may be returned;
  • the period during which a customer may return the products;
  • the manner in which products should be returned;
  • the condition of returned products; and
  • the mechanism for providing replacements or refunds to customers.

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