Let’s play Q&A again! I was popping around LinkedIn recently and saw this question:
Q: What is a good, basic returns policy for original art sold online? At the moment I don’t have one and I was thinking I should. – Evelyn
A: I know this is something people get really confused about, so I want to answer Evelyn’s question today.
You should absolutely have a returns policy, even if it’s a flat-out “no returns”.
However, I would recommend it’s a bit more extensive. Mainly because customers who buy art do realize that what they see on the screen might not be exactly what they get. The digital image might not have the exact, true-to-life colors or their monitor may completely misrepresent the colors you originally intended in the file. And it’s very difficult to accurately represent texture in the digital image, especially if you photograph or scan your work yourself.
But also because there are countless horror stories of people taking advantage of artists who don’t have policies in place. Without the policies, you have no legal standing. With the policies, sometimes just copy/pasting them into an email can stop a complaint in its tracks.
When it comes to a proper returns policy, you’ll have to assess what works for you and your business, but let me outline my positions on some of these things in case you need a recommendation.
1. Damages. What if the art arrives damaged at the customer’s address? Clearly you didn’t send it damaged, but as the sender it is still your responsibility to work with the postal carrier to file your claim and receive compensation for the loss. The customer doesn’t really have much to stand on in this situation. So it’s best to take care of it for them – plus, it’s just good customer service to make things easy on the customer. In your returns policy, specify a clause clearly stating that they will receive a full refund if the package arrives damaged but they must email you photographs of the damage within 7 days of receiving the art.
2. Misaligned Expectations. What if the art arrives and the customer just doesn’t like it? Yes, this is the customer’s fault to a certain extent, but in today’s world people do expect to be able to try something out before the purchase is finalized. They aren’t asking too much to be able to see what the piece looks like in their home before being completely sure. For this situation, have a sentence in your returns policy offering a refund of the purchase price, minus shipping costs, for 7 days after they receive the art.
3. Exchanges. What if the customer gets the art and wants a different piece? This is also the customer’s fault and in this instance I would recommend you don’t allow it. If they would like to exchange, they can return the first piece they bought and then purchase the other one. Not allowing exchanges can help avoid a customer who keeps changing their mind, causing too much time on your end spent on logistics. It can also help avoid a customer thinking that all your pieces cost the same amount or having to deal with partial refunds or extra payments because the exchange isn’t equal.
4. On Sale. What if the customer purchases something on sale? You are typically having a sale to move products that haven’t sold so it’s common to consider sale items as final. If this is something important to you, add a line in your returns policy that purchases at a discount are final.
I bet you notice that any acceptable returns have a specific deadline. This is key. Anytime you are allowing the customer to do something, you do need to place a deadline on it or someone can legally come back years later and try to return the art.
Some countries, like the UK, have laws for business. In the UK, they are called Trading Standards and include a 14 day period in which customers for any remote transaction (online, phone, mail, etc.) may return the item and you must specify in your policies if they are to pay the return shipping or else you’re responsible for that as well. There’s more to that, so if you’re in the UK you want to Google it. You should be aware of the laws for your country prior to writing out your returns policy.
Do you have a return policy in place? What does it include? Let me know in the comments!