Policies

Policy control

Whatever the size of your online store, if you’re selling to customers you need policy statements. Policies are a set of rules, or commitments, that keep your business transactions consistent, secure and correct. They enhance customer service by boosting customer confidence and provide reassurance should any disputes arise. Some of these set rules are legal requirements, but you can also go beyond the essentials to create policies that enhance your whole business. It’s a benefit for both seller and customer that’s low cost to implement - since your website is the ideal public place to keep and update policy information. Here’s our guide to knowing what you must have, what’s good to have and how to set the right temporary policies.

Essential Policies

The following policies are essential. Ensure you have these set up and public – before you sell a thing.

Refunds and returns

The one perceived downside to shopping online is that it’s harder to return goods. If you take that doubt away you’re more likely to make a sale. A good returns/refunds policy can overcome customer hesitation, so they complete a sale, and create customer loyalty, so they keep coming back. It can even set you apart from your competitors.

Although it’s less reassuring, it’s also perfectly acceptable to state that you don’t offer refunds or returns, or that you only offer exchanges or credit notes – just be very polite.

What should be included in your refunds or returns policy;

  • Clear messages – decide what your rules are. State your policy clearly and concisely. Whether you offer no return or exchange only on sales items, ensure that it can’t be misread.
  • Timescales – pick a time you can work with and don’t be vague (no ‘approximately’). 30 days is the average return time, but some stores state any number between 14-45 days. Clearly state when the time starts (usually from delivery date).
  • Hassle free solutions – can you include return instructions with the delivery?
  • Friendly tone – this is not the place for being too authoritative or brandishing ‘legalise’. Friendly and polite is key.
  • No hidden costs – if customers must pay return shipping, make sure it’s clear.

 

Payments

Let the customer know the methods of payment in simple terms. Often, this info is at the checkout page, but it can help to have it in a general ‘terms and conditions’ section in the footer of your website. It might persuade the customer to shop with you as they won’t want to have to go through the choosing and basket process to find out your payment methods. This is particularly useful if you use services such as PayPal that offer customers a credit system (where they can pay off their goods gradually). It’s also worth highlighting that customers don’t need to register with most PayPal-type services to use them, they can use them as a ‘guest’. Do check and promote the benefits of the system you use as a further incentive to get customers to complete their purchase.

If there’s a common payment method you decide not to accept (eg; American Express), it’s better to be clear and state this. As always, state it politely.

This is also the place for any information regarding gift vouchers – whether you do your own or accept vouchers from a wider scheme. You can include information on purchase and supply of gift vouchers too.

What to consider for your payment method policy;

  • What you can accept, and what common ones you can’t (if applicable).
  • Whether you use a service like PayPal, and customer benefits.
  • Gift voucher purchasing and using.

Shipping and taxes

Being honest is the best way of managing customer expectations. It’s important not to over-promise when it comes to shipping timescales, so in this instance it’s good to use language that will cover small, occasional delays. Retail giant Amazon do this by stating a range of days (eg; “get it by 23-27 January”) or you can say something like ‘most products are despatched within 24 hours of ordering’. Let them know approximately how long shipping will take (unless you can offer a guarantee service) and exactly what the cost will be in a clear format such as a table. It’s also helpful to list the different methods of delivery, e.g; standard is Royal Mail, next day via DPD, international using UPS.

You will also need to provide details of what countries you can and can’t sell to and have a list of the price and time differences. It’s worth considering different delivery charges – do you want to offer a next day service, a set delivery time option or a discount for spending a certain amount?

For domestic sales, tax should be included in the price they see online, sometimes this is separated out for information at the checkout stage. Some products (such as building materials) are commonly listed without tax, then it is added on at the checkout. State this clearly in your taxation policy.

All international postage will be subject to taxes and charges. Customers want this calculated for them and don’t want any surprises so always lay it out in the simplest way possible.
Don’t forget to mention any return shipping costs which you should have worked out and included in your refunds and returns policy.

What to include in your Shipping and Taxes Policy;

  • State your timescale for domestic shipping
  • Clearly lay out your timescales (and methods) for international shipping, or politely state that you don’t offer international shipping.
  • Show the costs for domestic and international shipping in a clear format such as a table.
  • Be clear about any additional costs, such as return shipping, that the customer might have to pay.

Privacy

Your customers are trusting you with sensitive, personal information and are protected by GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). Although it is an EU law, the same rules will also apply post Brexit under the UK’s data protection regulations. Essentially, it means you can’t share your customers information without their consent, and you must protect the data they supply. It’s important that you comply with GDPR and let the customer know exactly how you will process and store their information, whether you will add data to their computer (cookies) or share their information with a third party. You can pay a lawyer to write a law-abiding privacy policy for you, or there are plenty of free templates online.

Don’t forget, as well as the privacy policy you must also set up a mechanism to get your customers permission and ensure they agree to your privacy terms – this is usually done when they supply details such as their name and address with a little tick box to say they agree and a link to the privacy policy. You’ll also have to consider having the ubiquitous ‘allow cookies’ pop up when customers land on your site.

Here’s what should be included in your privacy policy;

  • A summary of the technical data collected and/or passed on (i.e. IP addresses, email addresses, etc.).
  • A summary of the personal data collected and/or passed on (i.e. name, address, etc.).
  • Data transferred from browsers (e.g. browser history).
  • If required, information on the use of web analytics tools such as Google Analytics.
  • The actions you take to ensure the security of data.
  • Information about the user’s right of objection, i.e. information about how to block cookies.

There are so many privacy considerations they couldn’t all be listed here. Refer to the Information Commission Officer’s very extensive guide here to make sure you comply.

 

 

Exemplary Policies

These policies aren’t essential or required by law. But they can really benefit your customers and, done well, can set you apart from the competition.

Size guides

If you sell clothing, furniture or shoes, size guides are really helpful to the customer and can cut down on the number of returns or bad reviews you have to deal with. Use the most common form of measurements for your product type and include all the information in an at-a-glance table. It’s also good to include a disclaimer too, particularly for clothing where materials are never exact – e.g; ‘all conversions and sizes are approximate and may vary by brand, material or preference of fit’.

Sustainability and ethics

You’ll make a great impression with customers if you can adhere to a policy about the sourcing, impact and ethics of your products. This can’t be taken lightly though, so make sure your claims are 100% true and stick to your own guarantees. Examples can include; using recycled materials, giving a portion of profits to a certain charity, using Fair Trade goods, only sourcing products made from organic cotton or reducing impact by sourcing locally and offering green distribution.

Warranties

Offering a warranty, particularly on high value items, is a great way to offer above-and-beyond customer service and protect your business at the same time. Decide on clear warranty time scales (and when this starts, usually from date of receipt). Use clear language and a friendly tone.

If you want to provide different warranty times for different products, make sure this is clear in your warrant policy and give the time in the individual product descriptions too.

Membership information

If you offer any kind of membership, loyalty cards or subscription services, ensure you have a policy which lays out all the terms and conditions. Examples of benefits to include (and details to consider);

  • Exclusive early access to sales or to new products.
  • Special discounts, freebies, offers or delivery deals.
  • News before it’s announced online.
  • Refer a friend discount.
  • Timetables and costs for subscriptions.
  • Loyalty card details – how to gain and spend points.

 

Packaging

If you offer any special gift or seasonal packaging options include the options and prices here. It helps to have images of the wrapping too, so customers can see if it’s worth their extra money. If you can offer personal touches such as handwritten messages, let your customers know.

Wholesale orders

If you are willing to sell your product in large batches, decide what/if you’d give a discount for this and spell out the details for your customers. This can be a real boost for sellers and customers. Well worth considering and you might get some regular bulk buyers.

Voucher codes

You might consider offering voucher codes in return for customers signing up to an e-newsletter or offer products through sites such as Groupon. Whenever you do this, make sure it’s in line with your vouchers/discounts/coupons policy and update every time things change.

Temporary Policies

It’s worth considering applying temporary policies at certain times of the year. If you decide to do a one-off giveaway, or to cover Christmas or Black Friday sales. For example, you may wish to offer a longer receipt/gift receipt time on orders placed after mid-November so that gifts opened after Christmas still have time to be returned or exchanged. Customers expect this around Christmas or for large sales such as Black Friday, so make sure you’re clear whatever you decide to offer.

Getting your policies right is just one consideration for growing ecommerce sites. As your business grows, finding a third-party order fulfilment house is a natural progression. Here at JEM, we love looking after your customers as our own. Order fulfilment is all we focus on, so we can do it smoothly, leaving you to concentrate on your products, sales and service.

If you’re considering using a new order fulfilment house, talk to the team at JEM to see what we can do for you.