The Ultimate Returns Policy

In the tough industry that is fashion, retailers are forced to compete with each other in almost every aspect of their shopping experience. Who has the most/best store experience, who has the best sizing guides, who does the easiest and quickest deliveries, just to give a few examples. And RETURN POLICIES are no different. Retailers all offer their own unique returns policies, varying multiple factors, such as the time you have to return them, the amount you get refunded, and the physical options they give you to return. 

And before you think, "surely competing in returns policies is just pointless", THINK AGAIN. 

UPS comScore research shows that 66% of online shoppers will look at a retailer's return policy before they buy clothing.

Return policies have a huge impact not only on HOW much shoppers will spend with retailers, but also whether they will shop with them in the first place. Something as simple as not refunding delivery fees, or only giving 14 days to return clothing could be costing retailers valuable customers, and valuable revenue. Because of this, retailers take their returns policies seriously, but they can also be a bit cheeky and be misleading to try and make them look much better than they are.

So let's break returns policies down into their standard constituent parts, making it easier for shoppers to understand what all the terms and chat means. Before we dive in, do note that in this post I'm only going to talk about retailers who offer free returns. This is just over half of all retailers, so make sure you check that bit for yourself - but it should be really obvious if they aren't free. I'm also focusing on online returns policies, which CRUCIALLY are very different to in-store returns policies, so do bare that in mind when you are returning clothes.

RETURN WINDOW

The return window itself is normally the first thing that you will see when you look at a returns policy. This simply is the amount of time that you have to return items back to the retailer in order to get a full refund. 

If you have bought clothes online, you are BY LAW entitled to return them within 14 days of receiving the goods. Point 1 - be aware to always check the semantics (or language). Most retailers give their windows from the date that you receive the items, but there are instances where they will give the window from the date of purchase (i.e. when you bought the clothes, not when you received them). If it's a 14 day window it will always be from the date you received them, but it doesn't have to be that way for the popular alternative 28 day window. For more information on your legal rights to return, see the "cancelling goods" section of the Consumer Contracts Regulations by clicking the button below.

WHO HAS THE BEST RETURNS WINDOW?

The best return windows are obviously the longest. The more time that we are given to return things the better, although sometimes a long window can be unhelpful - long windows lull us into a state of relaxation, which is great, but often leads to us forgetting to return clothes because there's no rush to do it. So, point 2, be aware that although long returns windows are great, you need to be more organised to stay on top of your returns.

The best returns windows that I have found are from Adidas (and any affiliated brand, like Reebok), Schuh, and Zappos. Adidas/Reebok offer a 100 day returns window, which is over 3 times longer than Nike's return window (a relatively meagre 30 days). But Schuh and Zappos top the lot, with a full year return window. I'll repeat that. They both have a 365 day return window, meaning you have a year to work out whether or not you like the shoes you've bought.

One other thing to consider is that often the returns window its not as strict as it seems on the policy page - if it is sent 29 days after you received it instead of 28, pretty much all retailers will still accept the return and refund you (and the ones that don't are really stupid) - I've known people to return things to ASOS way after their return window expired, and still get a full refund, but just don't bank on it. 

QUALITY CONDITIONS

 very.co.uk - quality conditions for returns

Now, of course, bare in mind that a return window is only as good as the quality conditions that are attached. What good would a 365 day return window be if the clothing had to be unworn - that would just be silly - you're obviously going to have worn it a bit in a year to make your mind up, and probably lost the packaging it came in. The way this normally works is that you will see retailers make their quality conditions "for a full refund" - essentially, if you return clothes that have been worn, you might not be refunded the whole amount. So if you are thinking of returning some shoes, but want to see what they look like, try them on inside and you'll be fine, but if you wear them out for a day to see if you like them, you might not get a full refund, and risk having them sent back to you. 

You might also see that most retailers demand clothing returns to be sent back in the original packaging. In my experience, and also from various email enquiries I've made, retailers who say this don't actually mean it. As long as you re-package returns in waterproof, well-sealed packaging you will be fine. PrettyLittleThing for example sent me the following email when I said that I had damaged the original packaging:

 Pretty Little Thing returns email packaging

It's pretty hard to distinguish retailers in this respect - they often don't directly compete in this area in terms of policy, as they all demand the same things: unworn, original packaging, tags attached. However, there are some retailers who are very relaxed about this. You might think you've got away with one on a night out wearing a dress you've just bought and returning it for a full refund, but retailers will refund you the full amount because they know that you'll buy your dresses from them in the future. ASOS are a very good example of a retailer who from experience have a pretty relaxed policy on this front. However, I should say that it's best not to abuse the policies, as ultimately retailers have no legal obligation to refund you if you break them. But just be aware they can be quite chill. 

One important point - shoes are very different. For retailers, shoe boxes are seen as part of the good itself, so damaging the shoe box is the same as damaging the shoes. If you are returning shoes, you will always see that you need to have the original shoe box, and protect the box with extra packaging. 

RETURNS OPTIONS

One of the easiest ways to rank the quality of retailers' returns policies is by how many options they offer in terms of actually returning the clothes. Some retailers offer a comprehensive list of options, including various couriers and drop-offs, whilst others only offer 1 option. 

As a shopper, it is important to me that retailers offer multiple options to return clothing - perhaps I am feeling lazy at the weekend and don't mind waiting all day for a courier to come, or I might commute to work and walk past a Doddle every morning, which makes that super convenient (assuming there isn't a queue). So the more options retailers give, the more likely it will be that returning clothes is as simple as it can be for you. The Post Office drop-off is the most popular single option, followed by Collect +, but although there are thousands of these around, they are not always ideally located or easy to find. But the main problem is that because they are not focused on returning clothes, you'll often end up queuing for ages behind people withdrawing pension money and paying bills the old-fashioned way, or buying newspapers and a cheeky chocolate bar. So having multiple options helps this to be less of an issue. 

Do note that retailers who offer free returns do sometimes offer paid solutions alongside their free ones. If they offer two different courier options for example, one might be free, but the other you might have to pay for. This is easy to spot IF YOU'RE LOOKING, but if not then it can be confusing, so do bare this in mind. 

WHO GIVES THE MOST RETURN OPTIONS?

In this particular playing field, there is one company who really excels. ASOS offer pretty much every option to shoppers (8 in total), including Doddle and toyou at ASDA, AND they are all free, even the Hermes courier option. But this is uncommon to see, and ASOS are in their own league in this instance, along with I'm sure one or two other retailers. Commonly, I would say that a retailer must give at least 3 different methods to return to have a GOOD amount of options, not great, but good enough. SimplyBe offer a good range of options, as they have a mix of courier and drop-offs. MISSGUIDED also have a good selection, but only do drop-offs, offering the following options to return:

 MISSGUIDED returns options

SUMMARY

Ultimately, a good returns policy is pretty subjective, as a lot of what is good in a policy depends on things to do with you, the shopper, especially when it comes to returns options. For example, if you live near a Ryman or a Post Office, but not an ASDA, Doddle, or Hermes drop-off point then you are going to find MISSGUIDED's return policy very inconvenient. 

And when it comes to whats best, again, it is hard to say. Would you rather have Reebok's 100 day return window, but only be able to return at the Post Office or an Hermes drop-off, or ASOS's 28 day return window, but all 8 returns options they offer?

So even though I cannot in this article tell you exactly what the best return policies are, I hope this sheds some light on how to work out what the best return policies are for you.