How to Handle Print on Demand Returns | Etsy & Shopify


Are you an entrepreneur using Etsy or Shopify to sell your print-on-demand products, but find yourself grappling with the dreaded “R” word—returns? If so, you’re not alone.

Managing print-on-demand returns in 2024 can be a significant pain point for business owners, often resulting in lost time, money, and customer satisfaction. But don’t lose heart! In this article, we’re going to not only pinpoint the key challenges you face in handling returns but also provide actionable solutions to streamline the process. 

So, buckle up and get ready to discover a comprehensive guide on handling print-on-demand returns for your Etsy and Shopify businesses, turning this once-daunting task into a piece of cake. Your customers will thank you, and your bottom line will, too.

Understanding Print on Demand Returns

Types of Products You Sell and Their Impact on Returns

The types of products you sell in your print on demand store can significantly influence the likelihood of returns. For example:

  • Customized products: Personalized or custom-made items tend to have lower return rates because they are unique to each customer. However, they may also be more challenging to resell if returned.
  • Different types of products: Some products, like clothing or shoes, are more likely to be returned due to sizing or fit issues. On the other hand, items like wall art or phone cases may have lower return rates.

Common Reasons for Print on Demand Returns

Understanding why customers want to return products is the first step in handling print on demand returns effectively. Some of the most common reasons include:

  • Wrong size: Customers may have ordered the wrong size by mistake or may find that the product doesn’t fit as expected.
  • Damaged product: Products can be damaged during shipping leading to customer dissatisfaction.
  • Misprints: The item has been misprinted by your print on demand supplier
  • Wrong Item: The wrong item has been sent by your POD supplier.
  • Changed their mind: Sometimes, customers simply change their minds after receiving the product, even if there’s nothing wrong with it.
  • Wrong Address: The address given on the order was incorrect.

Understanding POD Supplier Terms

As an entrepreneur running a print on demand business you are dropshipping products and so are in the middle of the process. You are between the customer and your print on demand supplier.

From the customer’s perspective, you are accountable for providing the customer with a product that match the description you have on your website or Etsy store.

However, as the business owner paying a POD supplier, you hold the POD supplier accountable to provide the product to the customer with no defects.

Print On Demand Supplier Return Policies

Some of the reasons for a product being returned will be covered by your print on demand supplier at their cost. However, many will not. It is extremely important to understand the scenarios your print on demand provider will cover at their expense as this will inform your returns policy.

For example, most POD companies will reship or refund at their expense if:

  • The wrong item is sent out
  • The wrong size is shipped
  • The printed image on a product is not as expected.

POD supplier’s policies differ on the following:

  • If the item is lost in transit
  • If the item is damaged in transit.

POD Suppliers will not cover:

  • A customer changing their mind
  • A customer ordering the wrong size
  • A customer entered the wrong delivery address.

The scenarios the POD suppliers do not cover will cost you money if you offer them in your returns policy.

This is why it’s extremely important you know what to expect from your supplier’s return policy so you can set your own policy correctly.

Return policies are just one of the factors to consider when choosing a print on demand supplier.

Creating a Return Policy for Your Print on Demand E-store

Deciding on Your Return Policy

Before you can handle print on demand returns, you need to decide on the type of return policy you want for your ecommerce store. Marketplaces like Etsy require you to state your returns policy so you need to decide what you will cover. Some common options include:

  • Accepting all returns: This is the most generous approach and can help build customer trust. However, it may also lead to higher return rates and costs for your business.
  • Only accepting returns for specific reasons: This option allows you to accept returns only for damaged products, wrong sizes, or other valid reasons, reducing the number of returns you need to handle.
  • No returns: Some POD businesses choose not to accept returns due to the customized nature of their products. While this can minimize return costs, it may also deter some customers from purchasing and in some cases be against the law (Im not a lawyer).

Writing a Clear and Fair Return Policy

A well-written return policy is essential to set expectations for customers and protect your business. Consider the following when crafting your policy:

  • Refund policy: Specify the conditions under which you’ll offer refunds, such as for damaged products or incorrect orders.
  • Return shipping: Clearly outline who is responsible for paying return shipping costs (you or the customer) and any associated fees.
  • Return request process: Provide clear instructions on how customers should initiate a return request, including any necessary forms, timelines, and contact information.

Displaying Your Return Policy

Once you’ve decided on your return policy, it’s crucial to make it easily accessible to customers. Here are some ways to display your policy:

  • Product Description: Include a brief summary of your return policy in each product description to ensure customers are aware of it before purchasing.
  • FAQ Section: Address common return-related questions in your store’s FAQ section.
  • Dedicated policy page: Create a separate page on your website to display your return, refund, and shipping policies. This can also include other important policies, such as privacy and cancellation policies.

Efficiently Handling Returns

Working with Print Providers

Collaborating with reliable print providers is crucial for managing print on demand returns effectively. Here’s how they can help:

  • Return shipping for your print: Some suppliers will handle return shipping for damaged or misprinted products, saving you time and effort but this comes at a cost.
  • Refund or replace policies: Suppliers typically offer a refund or replacement for products that meet their return criteria, ensuring a smooth experience for your customers.
  • Communication with print providers: Maintain open communication with your print provider to stay informed about any issues, such as delayed shipping or manufacturing defects.

Managing Return Shipping Costs

Handling return shipping costs can be a significant expense for your business. Consider these options to manage costs effectively:

  • Pay for return shipping: Offering to cover return shipping costs can create a positive customer experience but may increase your expenses. If the item is defective I do not ask the customer to return it. If the customer has changed their mind, I require the customer to pay for the return shipping.
  • Require customers to pay for return shipping: This option can help you save money but may deter some customers from purchasing if they perceive it as unfair or inconvenient but may be suitable if the customer has changed their mind.
  • Use return shipping labels: Providing customers with prepaid return shipping labels simplifies the return process and allows you to control shipping costs by using your preferred carrier.

Leveraging Technology for Returns Management

Using technology to manage returns can help you streamline the process, reduce errors, and improve customer satisfaction. Some solutions to consider include:

  • Return tracking: Implement a system to track returns, monitor their status, and ensure timely processing. This could be a simple spreadsheet. Organization is key.
  • Customer communication: Utilize automated email notifications or a customer portal to keep customers informed about their return status and address any concerns promptly.
  • Inventory management for returned items: Keep track of returned products in your inventory system, especially if they can be resold or repurposed

Should You Accept Returns?

If an item is defective or incorrect (wrong size sent etc) then legally you need to either refund or replace the item at your own cost.

The key decision for POD sellers is whether you should allow returns and exchanges.

If you sell products to UK or many places in Europe POD sellers are legally required to offer returns and exchanges. Sellers interpret the laws differently but my interpretation is that one must offer exchanges and allow for returns and refunds when selling to certain countries.

If selling solely in the US then you are not legally obliged to do so and therefore the choice is yours.

My Returns Policy

In order to remove any concerns or doubt about buy from my stores I have a customer-friendly returns policy for my print on demand products. As a store owner, I just accept the costs of accepting a return as a cost of doing business.

  • I will ship a replacement item if it is defective. The buyer keeps the defective item saving them the hassle of returning it
  • I offer returns and exchanges if the buyer notifies me within 14 days of receipt and returns the item in an as-new condition within 30 days of receipt.

How I Protect My Profits

When a customer returns an item I check it and log it in a tracking spreadsheet and place it in ‘stock’. When I receive orders, before I trigger the POD supplier to print them, I check my stock to see if I have that item in stock.

If I have a returned item, I cancel the order with the POD supplier and ship the item I have in stock.

I only resell the item if it is in an as new condition.

This way my margins are protected and the customer placing the order gets their item quickly which is an added bonus.

How To Handle Print On Demand Returns – Conclusion

Handling print on demand returns can be a challenging aspect of running an e-store on platforms like Etsy and Shopify. However, with the right return strategy in place and a clear understanding of your supplier’s policies, and the likelihood of returns for the types of products you sell, you can minimize the impact of returns on your business.

By working with reliable print providers carefully crafting your return policy, and leveraging technology for efficient returns management, you can create a seamless return experience for your customers and protect your bottom line.