Setting Your Shop Policies
It’s time to get serious about keeping customers happy. And if there’s one thing that customers love, it’s information.
So let’s give them all that sweet, sweet info. And not just details about a product that’ll convince shoppers that they must have it. For now we’re focusing on the other parts of keeping customers informed - how they can return product if it doesn’t work for them, what happens to their info, and other important policies and procedures that may be unique to your business.
This should give you an idea of what policies might make sense for your shop. In other words, we don’t recommend straight up copying and pasting this, but use it to create your own policies. Consider setting up a custom page where this info can live, to act a single source for all customer service needs. Then you’ve got a link you can share with new and prospective customers for their questions - this is the proverbial “no shirts, no shoes, no service” sign you can point toward when a particularly unruly customer walks through your digital door.
But don’t use this as an excuse to remove any personal touch from your store. (Allow us to recommend never using the phrase “that’s our policy” with your customers. It won’t make anyone feel good about the situation.) While this will be a repository for any terms and conditions, understand that sometimes you need to bend the rules in the name of customer happiness, like accepting a return a few days past your 14-day return window or offering a partial refund for a shipping delay (even if it wasn’t your fault). That’s the stuff that will keep customers coming around and sharing good vibes about your business.
Refunds and returns
There are a lot of unknowns when someone is shopping online. Does an item look like the same color in person that it appears on their computer screen? Is a size medium in a new store the same fit as the size medium in their tried-and-true fave? It’s a bit of a gamble, and sometimes the gamble doesn’t pay off. Having a return policy in place lets them order with confidence: even if a product doesn’t match up with their hopes and dreams, the store has a plan to keep them happy.
When developing your own return policy, consider these points:
Do you accept returns? You probably should, except in rare circumstances like when you custom make a product or personalize it for a specific buyer.
How many days does a customer have to return the product? 14-day return policies are pretty standard, and make sense for sellers without Fortune 500 logistics resources. If you can afford to, going even longer like 30 or 60 days can really ease customer concerns, and maybe lead to some impulse buys.
What’s your response to a return? Think about refunds, store credit (you can use a discount code for that), or exchanges for a different size or item with the same or similar price.
Do you refund the shipping costs, or cover the cost of the return shipment? This really depends, and there’s usually no wrong answer. Unless you specifically make a mistake, like sending the wrong product, it’s not unusual to expect a customer to at least pay a portion of the shipping fees. While it’s nice in theory to give a 100% refund to make people happy, it may not be feasible to run a business where you’re paying for shipping two ways just because of buyer’s remorse. If you sell heavy or large products that require expensive shipping, insurance, or packing materials, it makes even more sense to split the bill.
If you sell digital products like a download of your band’s albums, are these items eligible for refunds? This one’s tricky. There’s no way to guarantee someone hasn’t made a copy when you’re talking about a digital product. In that case, it’s not uncommon to have an “all sales final” policy. If possible, you’ll probably want to put a sample on a free or low-cost service, so potential customers can check it out before putting down some dough.
Use your answers to these questions to construct your return policy, then write it up as clearly and concisely as you can. That might look like this:
All sales of our album download are final. For any issues or a change of heart, email us within [XX] days requesting a refund or exchange. If a package arrived damaged, please include a photo of the box. Clothing should be in [XXXXXXXX] condition for returns. We’ll split the return shipping cost unless the return is due to a defect, in which case the return is on the house.
Your shop policies page is a great place to clarify how things work in your store. If you’re required to charge sales tax, let folks know. If you think shoppers might worry about the security of submitting their credit card info, include details about the safety of your checkout.
Those customer hesitations probably look like:
Do you charge sales tax? This is a question for a certified accountant or tax attorney in your area, but you better know the right answer, and it’s always a good idea to be up front with your customers about any additional fees - even when they’re not going in your pocket.
Are shipping fees extra? If you offer free shipping, that’s a big selling point, so shout about it! If you have standard shipping fees, list them together in a place that’s easy to find. If it depends on the item, make sure that’s added to each product and clear throughout the process. Getting to checkout only to find out that shipping costs more than the item itself is no fun.
How is personal information stored and transmitted? Even though you might be a one-person show, to any one buyer you should look legit and professional - and that comes with a lot of responsibility. In the age of data breaches and ad tracking, people want to know where their personal information is going, who has access to it, and whether or not it’ll remain secure along the whole ride. You know your payment processor - like Stripe or PayPal - takes steps to keep that data safe, but customers might not, so tell ‘em.
Your privacy matters to us. Our shop has SSL, which adds a layer of security when you enter your information at checkout. Payments are processed by [XXXXXXXX], which has a [XXXXXXXX] level of security on all transactions.
If you’re in [XXXXXXXX], you’ll notice a [XX]% sales tax charge at checkout. That’s because we’re located in the same state or country. Hey neighbor!
We live in a world of same-day shipping with online purchases, but some indie businesses just can’t keep up. That’s to be expected! It’s a good opportunity for you to set some expectations and brag about your small business. You’ll have a number of questions to answer here, but thankfully most are straightforward answers with less room for personal discretion:
- Do you ship only on specific days of the week?
- What’s your go-to shipping method?
- What’s the estimated delivery speed for domestic and international shipments?
- Are there certain countries where you’ve decided you won’t ship your products? (Sorry, Antarctica.)
- Do you offer a pickup option for locals? (Dropping a free shipping discount code here can work great if your answer is yes.)
- Is the shipping cost included in the price of your products? (Probably worth answering this again, even if you covered it in the payments section.)
- Do you email out tracking information to your customers?
- Do you offer any expedited shipping options by special request?
- Do you offer gift-wrapping or custom notes? (A great way to boost your revenue for the holidays!)
- Do you have any upcoming shipping blackout dates? (Think about vacations and holidays when you’re planning to take a break. You deserve it, and customers will understand.)
This seems like a whole lot of information to settle on, but you can whittle it down to just a few sentences for your customers:
Orders ship on [XXXXXXXX] via [XXXXXXXX], and should be delivered within [XX] days. Send a message if you’d like tracking info, and place your order before [XXXXXXXX] for delivery by Christmas. Our shop will close on [XXXXXXXX] for a holiday break and reopen [XXXXXXXX].
Pro-tip: If you need help with some of the important shipping dates, check out our Holiday Rush calendar.
Spread the word
Now that you’ve settled on shop policies, you’re ready to answer all sorts of customer questions with authority. Congrats on speeding up any future customer service! Give potential customers some peace of mind by posting some policies in your store by creating a custom page. If you run your shop on Big Cartel, just go to Account, then Customize design to make a Shop Policies page.
To ease the process for exchanges and returns, you might consider including some details with each order. Something as simple as a card printed with “For returns, visit storename.bigcartel.com/policies or email contact @ bigcartel.com” can help streamline things. (But don’t actually use that email address.)
More resources on making customers happy
- How to Offer Customers Support They’ll Love
- How to Handle a Customer’s Issue With Care
- Creating an About Page From the Ground Up
- A Guide to Shipping Your First Order
- Why Packaging is Important
- A Guide to Pricing Your Products
Sarah Anderson and Andy Newman contributed to this guide.