Comparing the Returns Policies of 5 Established Ecommerce Brands

13 August, 2013

In 2012, worldwide ecommerce sales rocketed beyond $1 trillion for the first time in history. Australia has a significant piece of this pie with our ecommerce industry now estimated to be worth nearly $40 billion – up from $27 billion in 2010.

This amount is indicative of increased consumer confidence, channelled in no small part by the ability of ecommerce sites to deliver products and services according to consumer expectations.

But what happens when those expectations are not met? How flexible are ecommerce retailers when it comes to returns policies? On what basis are products refundable or replaceable?

Our roles as internet marketing consultants is increasingly encompassing all aspects of the online business, including how best to deal with customers and how to keep them buying.

As such, we recently compared the return policies of 5 popular online retailers and discovered that while there are differences in approach, on the whole most ecommerce sites regulate largely according to the following common policies:

10 common returns policies of Australian ecommerce stores

  • Information on returns can be obtained through a stores’ online support centre
  • Return vouchers are offered to customers as a way of keeping track of requests
  • Products returned must be in original packaging and accompanied by an invoice
  • All accessories initially delivered with the product, including manuals, must be contained in the return package
  • Photographic evidence and descriptions of the fault or damage may be required for verification
  • Goods deemed to have been damaged due to neglect or misuse may not be eligible for return
  • Items damaged in transit on first delivery must be reported immediately upon receipt
  • Even goods without warranty are eligible for return depending on reason, condition and time of return as stated in the terms and conditions of a specific retailer
  • Returns are only valid once the product is returned and verified as the one originally purchased
  • ecommerce policies for returns are governed by the broader Australian Consumer Law, which means that if as a customer you feel your returns query was not handled appropriately, you can challenge a retailer under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010

How do ecommerce stores reimburse customers for products that are returned?

For undisputed returns claims, online retailers generally handle customer requests in one of four ways:

  • Offer a replacement
  • Repair the product (where the customer is not responsible for product damage or fault)
  • Offer store credit
  • Pay a refund
Retailer Submit request to Return item within Change of mind returns Delivery cost of returned item Turn-around time
Catch-A-Day Online Help Centre 28 days of purchase Accepted provided the customer pays a 20% re-stocking fee and courier costs Covered unless the customers negligence or misuse of the product is deemed the reason for a return Within 28 days of item being returned
Bigw Courtesy Desk at a local Big W store or call the Online Returns Centre number printed on invoice No specified time as long as the period within which an item is returned is considered ‘reasonable’ Accepted with the exception of internet recharge cards and internet vouchers Covered unless the customer is found to be responsible for product damage or fault Depends on the nature of product fault or dama
Kogan Online Help Centre 14 days of purchase Not accepted beyond 14-day Money Back Guarantee Not covered under 14-day Money Back Guarantee. Covered if goods are still under warranty Depends on the time it takes to repair, ship or replace a product
Deals-Direct Customer Service Help Centre 14 days of delivery Not accepted after the 14-day Money Back Guarantee Not covered under the 14-day Money Back Guarantee but covered if goods are still under warranty Depends on the time it takes to repair or replace a product
Harvey-Norman Online Customer First Team Not specified, as long as the product is returned within a ‘reasonable’ time Not accepted Covered unless damage or fault to the product is deemed to be the customer’s fault Depends on the nature of product fault or damage

A forward tread in ecommerce returns policies?

A year ago, an article in The Age based on research conducted by the Consumer Action Law Centre, exposed some leading Australian ecommerce companies for breaching consumer laws. Judging by customer reviews spanning the last five years, this analysis may have been too little too late for some.

However, with competition becoming increasingly tough among big players in the online retail market and as more newcomers enter the ecommerce field, focus on policy monitoring and compliance with Australian Consumer Law is also gaining momentum.

Some of the companies listed here, such as Big W, were part of the group warned to ‘straighten their act’ in 2012. In addition, industry growth means more choice for consumers so sites with below par policies are likely to plummet in reputation and sales.

What are some of your experiences with returns policies on ecommerce sites? Feel free to share by leaving a comment.


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Big W, Harvey Norman, Kogan, Catch of the Day, Deals Direct

Images: Big W, Harvey Norman, Kogan, Catch of the Day, Deals Direct

By Scott Evans
As co-founder and Director of Gorilla 360, Scott has spent the last 12 years helping businesses grow through smart digital marketing.
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