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What is the legal return period of online purchases?



Maxine Alders

14 March 2024


14-day return period, right of withdrawal, what is the legal return period, legal return period online purchases

What is the legal return period of online purchases?

The legal return period, also known as the right of withdrawal or withdrawal period, is set at EU level. It refers to the period during which consumers have the right to return a product after receiving it - without giving any reason. As a website owner, you have several obligations regarding this legal withdrawal period. In this article, you will learn all about the legal return period; what it is, how best to deal with it as an online retailer and what you all need to consider.


What is the legal return period?

The legal return period set by the EU is 14 days. This means that consumers have the right to return all or part of their order after purchase within this period. Within this return period, you do not need to give a reason for the return. In the case of an online purchase, this 14-day period starts when you receive the products. If a return is notified within this period, you also have another 14 days to actually return the product. In practice, the legal return period amounts therefore to a total of two 14-day periods.

(Online) retailers are required to refund the order amount including any shipping costs. Again, there is a 14-day time limit - refunds must be made within two weeks of notification of the return. However, many online retailers wait to refund until the items have actually arrived and been checked in their warehouse. Generally, the same payment method is used for the refund as for the purchase. However, if all parties agree, another refund method - such as a coupon - can also be chosen.

What does this mean for the (web) retailer?

Webshops are required to take back sold items within the legal return period, even if there is no damage or defects. However, in order to make use of the 14-day right of withdrawal, online retailers must state this explicitly on their website. If you fail to do so, the legal return period is automatically extended to 12 months. It is not enough to include the cancellation right in the general terms and conditions. You must:

  • Explicitly state the right of withdrawal on your website and inform your customers about the return period;
  • Clearly indicate who bears the costs for the return or, in case of an exchange, the reshipment.

Some products are excluded from the return policy, such as personalised, sealed or perishable products, and tickets or reservations such as airline tickets or concert tickets. These exclusions are laid down by law and yet misunderstandings often arise about them. To avoid confusion, you would do well to clearly define the excluded items and state them on your website.


Use legal return period as a webshop

Besides clearly stating the legal return period, there are other solutions to make returns as smooth as possible for webshop owners. For example, a digital return form through which customers can register their returns in advance. This way, as an online retailer, you always have an overview of what is being returned, when the return arrives in your warehouse and why the products are being returned. With such a digital return form, you can:

  • Use Return rules to determine who should pay the shipping costs. As an online retailer, you are obliged to refund the order amount including any shipping costs, but this does not apply to return shipping costs. For example, you can set up a rule so that customers only receive a free return label if they return an item due to a defect. In the case of an ordinary return within the legal return period, they will then bear the return costs themselves. Note: don't forget to mention these conditions on your website as well; 

  • Offer coupons instead of giving money back.  As an online retailer, you are required to refund the purchase amount, but this can also be done with a coupon. This way, you can keep sales in your till and make sure the customer shops with you again.

Reduce your returns with Returnless

A digital returns process, like the one you can set up with Returnless, not only saves you a lot of manual work (and stress!), but also reduces returns and increases revenue, for instance by offering coupons instead of refunds. 

With Returnless, you also always have an overview in your returns portal of when products are returned for what reason. Thanks to Return Analytics, you can respond proactively to returns by optimising product images and descriptions or removing unpopular products from sale, for example.

Wondering what Returnless can do for your business? Create a free account and discover Returnless' powerful features for yourself or schedule an appointment with our team for a 15-minute product demo.

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