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Fair returns and complaints policies

These show that you offer great customer service — and help your business handle complaints promptly and fairly.

Following set steps will help save you time, money and stress when handling complaints, because everyone will know what to do. Use our downloadable checklist — and our quiz on returns — to get tooled up. 

Download document

Useful templates

Use these templates so you, your staff and your customers know how complaints will be handled:

Refund policy sign [PDF, 796 KB]

Complaint record form [PDF, 929 KB]

Complaints process checklist [PDF, 563 KB]

Consumer law says customers can get a replacement, repair or refund for:

  • faulty products
  • substandard services
  • late deliveries
  • being overcharged if the price wasn’t set beforehand.

You do not have to give a refund, repair or replace if the customer:

  • changes their mind
  • breaks it accidentally or on purpose
  • doesn’t follow advice, eg washing instructions
  • takes it elsewhere to be fixed before coming to you.

If a customer makes a complaint that seems unreasonable — or they don’t give you enough information up front — be polite but assertive. It’s your right to investigate complaints. Find out as much as you can before deciding what — if any — remedy to offer.

If you’re a retailer, it’s a good idea to display a refund sign near the till so customers and staff know which returns you’ll accept and which you’ll refuse.

Obligations under the Consumer Guarantees Act (external link) — Consumer Protection

You can't offer a credit note if a customer returns a faulty product.

You can't offer a credit note if a customer returns a faulty product.

You can refuse to give a refund if a customer has changed their mind.

You can refuse to give a refund if a customer has changed their mind.

Do you know when to give a customer a refund, repair or replacement? Take this quiz to find out. When you're done, follow the links in the answers for more details.

Effective returns policies

A returns policy — or complaint policy — outlines when your business will offer a return, refund or replacement, and when it has the right to refuse. You can either:

  • Do what’s required under the Consumer Guarantees Act and other consumer laws. 
  • Do more than the legal minimum.

What “more than the legal minimum” means is up to you and the type of industry you’re in. What you can’t do is offer less than what’s legally required. Here are some examples:

Business typeLegal minimumMore than the minimum
Clothing retailer Accept returns if garment is faulty Also accept returns if customer changes their mind
Cafe Give replacement coffee if waiter spills it or it takes too long to arrive Also give replacement coffee if customer accidentally drops it
Mechanic or bike repairer Free repairs for faulty parts Also offer higher-quality replacement parts at no extra cost
Plumber Aim to complete jobs on time Also offer a discount if it's not completed within a given timeframe

Putting your policy in writing — even a one-pager with key points — means you and any staff know what to do about different types of complaint. It’s a good idea to include:

  • how customers can make a complaint
  • how to return faulty products, and any costs involved
  • if you offer the legal minimum or more generous terms — give details, eg returns for change of mind, longer timeframes.

Plain language is a must. Avoid complex technical or legal jargon. Make sure everyone understands the terms — and rewrite if needed.

If a customer sends back a product for inspection, usually they pay the postage or delivery costs.

If a customer sends back a product for inspection, usually they pay the postage or delivery costs.

If it’s faulty, you repay the postage/delivery costs, then provide a repair, refund or replacement.

Reducing risk of complaints: Deliveries

Make your policy public

Customers will also want to check your returns policy, so it’s a good idea to share at least the key points.

Think about how you’ll do this. Options include:

  • on your website
  • by the till
  • on receipts
  • in sales agreements
  • in packages delivered to customers.

This is particularly useful if a customer is asking for more than you are legally required to do to resolve a complaint.

How you handle returns and complaints is part of good customer service.

How you handle returns and complaints is part of good customer service.

Effective complaints process

Make it as easy as possible for customers to raise complaints, and for your business to record and resolve problems. It’s a good idea to use the complaints checklist and complaint record form at the top of this page.

Whatever the complaint:

  • Handle it promptly and politely.
  • Gather as much information as you need to decide on a fair solution.
  • Remember this might mean not giving a refund, repair or replacement.

Dealing with complaints and bad reviews (external link) — Consumer Protection

Here are other ways to show customers you are keen to improve your service and deal with any problems:

  • Invite customer feedback, eg a suggestion box or survey.
  • Display your returns policy.
  • Ask customers who complained for feedback on how the complaint was handled.

Use this information and complaints data to identify wider issues that need fixing, eg with deliveries or a supplier.

Step-by-step

Handling a complaint

Here are seven steps to work through when dealing with a complaint. These are also in our complaints process checklist for you to download and check off whenever a complaint comes in.

Complaints process checklist [PDF, 563 KB]

  1. Tell the customer who will deal with their complaint from start to finish. That person, whether it’s you or a trusted staff member, then carries out steps two to seven.
  2. Record the customer’s contact details, details of the problem, and other background information. This might include:
    • date of the sale
    • when the problem arose
    • if the problem could be due to overuse or incorrect use
    • customer’s version of what was said during the sale — and your staff’s version.
    Training staff to handle complaints
  3. If it’s a faulty product, work out if it can be fixed. This might mean sending it back to the manufacturer. If it’s a complaint about the standard of your services, this might mean redoing the work or offering a refund.
  4. Check if the remedy you plan to give meets your legal requirements.
  5. Discuss what will happen next with your customer. If they ask for more than you are prepared to offer, explain your postion politely but firmly. It might be helpful to keep our visual guide to consumer rights handy.
    Visual guide: What you must do for customers
  6. Do what you say you’ll do, whether it’s giving a remedy or not.
  7. If necessary, tell your customer what your business will do to prevent the problem from happening again.

Reducing risk of complaints

Don't sell extended warranties as a no-hassle solution to any and all future issues.

Don't sell extended warranties as a no-hassle solution to any and all future issues.

It’s a lot of paperwork, will probably cost you money in the long run, and customers already have rights to remedies under consumer laws.

What to tell customers: Extended warranties

The customer is always right.