When U.K.-based shoppers purchase products in brick-and-mortar stores, they’re not always entitled to a full refund unless they receive a faulty item. Otherwise, it depends on each merchant’s own returns policy to determine whether they want to make things right for their customer.

When it comes to online returns, however, it’s a different story.

Learn more about how shopper experience impacts your overall success in The Future of Shopper Experience

In the U.K., retailers are required to honor their customers’ legal rights with regards to online orders, resulting in a far more generous returns policy.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • What legal rights customers have for online returns in the UK
  • How to set your online returns policy
  • How to streamline online returns with automation

In the United Kingdom, customers who purchase items online have the right to request a refund for any reason within 14 days of purchase, whether or not it’s a faulty item. They then have an additional 14 days to return the purchase to you, and you must provide a full refund within 14 days of receiving the item. Customers aren’t obligated to provide a reason for their decision to make a return.

In cases where a customer receives a faulty item, they have even more time to make a claim and request a refund.

In this situation, retailers are obligated to replace or refund a faulty item if it is returned within six months of purchase. Additionally, if the customer can prove that the item was faulty when it was purchased, they have up to six years in total to make a claim for a full refund or replacement (five years in Scotland).

These consumer legal rights are governed by the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013 and the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which were put in place to provide better consumer protection for online purchases and simplify the process of dispute resolution around ecommerce transactions.

There are some exceptions to online consumers’ rights to obtain a full refund, which include:

  • when the customer has broken the seal on a CD, DVD, or software product
  • perishable items
  • personalized or customized items
  • when the customer has broken the seal on an item that’s been sealed for health or hygiene reasons

In these cases, retailers are not obligated to offer refunds, but keep in mind that if a customer is dissatisfied with a purchase, it’s in your best interest to make it right.

UK returns

How to set your online returns policy

When you’re setting up your own shop’s store returns policy, you can honor your customers’ legal rights while also customizing your policy based on your brand. By going the extra mile to deliver a great customer experience—even during returns—you’ll be able to gain a competitive advantage over retailers who do the bare minimum as required under UK consumer protection laws.

Time period

As mentioned, retailers must provide customers with a minimum of 14 days to request a return. However, many brands are far more generous in their own return policies: The cosmetics brand MAC, for instance, offers a 90 day returns window. And some major brands, such as IKEA, even offer a 365-day returns window. The more generous your returns window is, the more likely customers are to give your brand a chance—and no matter how long your returns period is, 80% of returns take place in the first 14 days anyway, as our data has found. Do more than the minimum, and you’ll likely see your sales volume go up.

Condition of item

For some types of returns, you may be able to choose not to accept items if they’re not in their original packaging or seal. That said, unless the items were marked as final sale, it’s often worth going above and beyond anyway to ensure that the customer can get a replacement that they’re happy with.

In situations where an item has been removed from its packaging, you might consider offering an exchange or gift card rather than a full refund if the item will not qualify for resale. In this case, there’s no need to budget for reverse logistics fees for items that will just end up in landfills—instead, you can recommend that the customer keep or donate the original item, and provide them with a replacement free of charge.

Return shipping

Under UK law, a customer has 14 days to deliver the item back to your warehouse once they’ve requested a refund, and they have numerous options for shipping it back. While there’s no obligation to offer free return shipping, many online stores do, and it’s a generous perk that will encourage more shoppers to check out your items.

To speed up your receipt time on returns, you can provide your customers with a variety of flexible options for mailing back their packages. For example, rather than asking your shoppers to handle their own shipping, you can provide them with pre-paid shipping labels, either in the original box or available as a printed form. Alternatively, consider giving your shoppers access to nearby drop-off centers, where they’ll be able to drop off their items without even needing to repackage them. It may make sense to give your shoppers access to multiple return options, so that they can process their returns in the ways that work best for their circumstances.

How to streamline returns with automation

To make it easier for customers to return items, consider using a returns management platform like Loop, which offers a seamless, self-support platform where shoppers can initiate a return. They’ll be able to choose the best way for them to return the item, and even view a variety of recommendations for replacement products, with the opportunity to add them to their cart immediately.

In addition to creating a streamlined experience for your shoppers, this helps you reduce the need for customer support, and even helps you drive revenue and customer retention: Loop helps merchants retain 40% of profits from returns via exchanges and upsells.

Build a great post-purchase experience for your shoppers, and they’ll be more inclined to purchase from you in the first place—and far more likely to keep shopping with you.

Learn how Loop can help you improve your online returns process. Check out a demo.