Do you sell online? Make sure your returns policy is up to scratch..

I happen to have a very good friend who is an artisanal soap and candle maker.

He has put the last few years of his life into creating a high-end range of fully-organic soaps and candles and he sells them to individuals across the world and to shops and boutiques across Europe.

It’s very much a cottage industry and my friend is involved in every aspect of the business. He makes the soap and candles from scratch. He designs the packaging and wraps each item. He takes care of orders and sending out deliveries, not to mention doing all the marketing and bookkeeping.

This will sound familiar to anyone who has started up a business on a shoestring.

Until you start turning a decent profit, it can be hard to hire help. So it’s important to make sure your business runs as smoothly as possible and you are faced with as few problems as possible.

However, just the other day my friend did run into a problem.

He received an email from a customer in Canada who said that her soap delivery had never arrived.

This surprised my friend. As he explained to me, the customer had ordered the soap seven months earlier. He didn’t know what to think. Was the customer being genuine? Or had she used the soap and was trying to trick him into sending her some more, free of charge?

It wasn’t a big order, so he decided to err on the side of caution and send replacement soap. He didn’t want to damage his business’s reputation. However, it made him realise that his online store desperately needed an official terms and conditions page, not to mention a crystal clear returns policy.

After all, he reasoned, it’s fair to give someone a month in which to complain a delivery hadn’t arrived. But seven months? That seemed to him to be just a bit too generous.

Because he is operating on a shoestring, he is now shopping around online for both a terms and conditions template and an amendable returns policy. He is being careful that both are drafted by people who understand the law in this country.

My friend was lucky that the disputed order was a small one. He sometimes fulfills orders for hundreds of bars of soap, which might be bought – for example – by a reseller in France. Yes, with large orders he makes sure deliveries are tracked; but what would happen if a major order went astray? He’d be severely out of pocket.

If your business is also one that sells online, I’d strongly advise that you make sure your Ts& Cs, plus your returns policy are watertight. If you can afford it, get them reviewed by a reputable solicitor who specialises in this type of work.

There’s one more thing I’d do, which I will raise with my friend the next time I see him and that’s to make sure all deliveries are insured.

Too many things get lost in transit and it’s vital to ensure that your business is not damaged by an incompetent courier.

Better safe than sorry when it comes to safeguarding your business and protecting your profits.

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