Return policies of marketplaces breaking sellers’ back?

Editor | Sep 10, 2020

A ‘No questions asked’ return policy can make buyers grin from ear to ear. However, the same thing wipes the smile off sellers’ face.

Why? To find that out and understand the game of marketplace return policies from a seller’s POV, Indian Online Seller spoke to a host of sellers and stalked seller forums & content sharing communities.

Below are our findings.

1.Why a customer needs 30 days to decide if he/she wants to return the product?

A buyer-friendly return policy is inversely proportional to a seller-friendly policy. The longer the duration of returns, the harder it is for a seller to close the sale and get paid.

Let’s take a look at popular marketplaces’ return policy:

Rakesh Sareen, founder of Abhishti, a women’s clothing label sells on Jabong, Snapdeal, Flipkart, Myntra, Limeroad and Paytm. While speaking about online shopping sites’ returns policies, he emphasized that returns are understandable as a buyer doesn’t get the ‘touch and feel’ experience while shopping online.

“A ‘no questions asked’ policy is the game that ecommerce is. A customer is buying the product from us without touching the fabric or understanding the size. We can give all the detail in the description but the customer still would not understand the product unless they touch and feel it. If the customer is showing faith in your products, your brand, without actually having it then it’s your obligation to do the same for them. This 2 way street builds relationship and trust,” Sareen said.

According to him, what complicates the matter is the unreasonable number of days given to buyers to return a product. He reasoned,

“But the thing that is incorrect is the (return) days being given. Only Snapdeal is smart enough to ask for 7-day returns. Jabong has reduced it to 15 but Myntra and Flipkart still have 30-day policies. As a customer if something doesn’t fit me, or if I don’t like the product, a day or two are sufficient. The leverage of 30 days gives the customer options of wearing it, filling the closet and then exchanging it for something else.”

He raised a very valid point. Increasing number of fraud buyers and fraud returns is a proof that manipulating a return policy is easy.

2.Will your local shopkeeper entertain inane reasons that an online seller is given?

Buyers have every right in the world to return a product, which is defective, wrong, ill-fitting, bad quality, or not as described. Although, we have read several cases of goods being returned for inane reasons such as ‘I don’t want a single sim phone now, but a dual one’, ‘My kid placed the order’, ‘I accidently selected the wrong product’, ‘Doesn’t go well with our newly painted house’, ‘It’s not useful anymore’ and many such excuses.

Assuming that every buyer will follow ethical buying practices is a little idealistic in today’s world. Hence, just the way a local retailer won’t entertain the above-mentioned reasons, online sellers should have the option too.

3.Like it or not, we have to accept returns

The above point of inane reasons brings us to the power of accepting or rejecting returns request. Here we noticed that the scenario differed from marketplace to marketplace and product to product.

For instance, Snapdeal has specified on their website under Not Eligible Return/Replacement Criteria– ‘Seal open branded electronic items cannot be returned in case of not being happy with the item as they can’t be resold.’ Flipkart too requests buyers to check individual seller’s return policy.

Yogesh Khatri who sells on Flipkart, Amazon, Snapdeal, eBay and Shopclues shared his ordeal with IOS.

“Our many products are seal pack products, and has manufacturer warranty; once it is open it cannot be resold. On Flipkart, customer simply raises return request that they didn’t like the performance and raises replacement. We replaced it and again the same issue. Once a buyer did that 5 times. And every time we checked the product, it was working absolutely fine. So manufacturer also refused to replace as it was working fine.”

When asked if sellers have to accept returns even when seller is not at fault? Khatri revealed that they have to accept returns. eBay still considers manufacturing warranty and rejects claim. But not Amazon, Flipkart.

Buyers on the other hand disagree. Vishal Bharadwaj who once placed order for a wrong Wi-Fi router on Flipkart shared,

“They straight out refused my refund request. I was told they can only replace it if the router is not working properly. But we can’t provide refund as it is against our policy.”

Bharadwaj shared one more experience when his return request was rejected by Flipkart.

“I bought a set of boxer shorts from a new seller. My fault was I didn’t check the seller returns policy. When I opened the package, two of them were torn. But as the seller had stated ‘no refund/exchange’, Flipkart said they can’t do anything about it. Now I make sure I read the seller’s return policy.”

4.How will I cover loss of unsealed/damaged products?

Yogesh Khatri above shared how buyers return used unsealed products that even the manufacturer refuses to take back. Who gets the raw deal in this? The middleman – dealer/seller. Khatri said, “Few times we have received other old used product too.”

Sareen also disclosed that clothes sold in good condition have been returned by buyers in unsaleable condition but he had to accept the request and refund.

5.The award for worst return policy goes to…

We asked sellers to rate online marketplaces purely based on their return policy. Snapdeal and eBay ranked high. Flipkart and Myntra turned out to be the worst. Amazon, Paytm, Shopclues, Jabong, and Limeroad sat in the middle.

Sareen said,

“The condition of returns of Myntra and Flipkart are the worse. Jabong has good returns and Snapdeal due to their lower TAT has the best return policy.”

6.Seller protection comes to rescue. Sometimes.

Not all is bad. Under seller protection, merchants are provided partial or full refund if after inspection it is discovered that the product delivered by them wasn’t faulty or the goods returned back is in bad shape. “So they (marketplaces) have a refunding policy under which if a product is returned to us in a defective state, the money for the same is refunded to us after completing their checks,” Sareen said.

Khatri too admitted that when he receives old used products from customers, “We raise claim and they (marketplace) do refund under SPF claims.”

But according to him long term solution is to allow sellers to accept or reject the return request at source, not SPF claims. “Marketplace should leave all on seller that they want to accept return or not; they should not force where seller is at no fault.”

Khatri listed out that an ideal return policy should be as follows:

  • Returns should be only on selected products, which a seller should decide. Like many electronic product such as speakers, headphones do not have seal and they can be sold even if they are returned
  • Product under manufacturer warranty should not be returned
  • During return pickup, they should make sure that all items are included, which was there in the package and the box is intact.
  • Buyers generally open return request after 8 days for broken item received. There should be a deadline of 48 hours for broken item return/refund request

7.By-product of high-returns: Flourishing refurbished market

As we know, certain electronic products such as mobile phones, tablets, can’t be sold as new, once the box is opened and returned. Then what happens to such products?

  • In case of a minor manufacturing defect, often a branded mobile company takes back the gadget from the seller, fixes the issue, repacks and sends back to the seller in a sealed box, which is ready to be sold again as new
  • Some manufacturers accept the returned product from the seller and sell as refurbished goods through offline stores
  • When manufacturers refuse to accept the product like Yogesh Khatri mentioned above, then sellers have no option but to sell it as second-hand/used product
  • Alternatively, etailers like Flipkart and Amazon have created a channel to sell refurbished products and clear dead inventory

“We list on eBay as ‘Used Products’ in half price. Flipkart also has channel to clear dead inventory. We have not sold through that (Flipkart’s channel), but we received email from Flipkart asking if we have any dead stock or refurbished products, they can help in liquidating,” Khatri revealed.

Amazon has collaborated with companies like Green Dust and Surpluss to offer buyback & exchange options for consumers and sell refurbished mobiles, tablets and other electronic products. eBay too has entered refurbished goods segment.

Buyers and sellers, do you have any returns nightmares to share? Which online site is best and worst according to you? Do you think it is impossible to strike a balance between a seller-friendly and buyer friendly policy? Please do share.

About Author



Editor team is specialized in introducing the marketplace content targeting the Indian online sellers. They plan and coordinate to bring the appealing content for the small businesses on how to partner with the e-commerce sites like Amazon and Flipkart and strategies for improving their online business. 

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