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Writing Solid Terms and Conditions

A clear set of policies will add confidence to potential buyers.

Online shopping continues to establish itself as an attractive and viable option for buyers. Nevertheless, prospective customers can be hesitant about privacy and quality issues when considering a transaction with small businesses they don’t know. It’s good business, therefore, to establish your seller details and policies so buyers can know what to expect from you.

Clearly communicating your terms and conditions will promote a secure environment in which prospective buyers will feel more at ease about buying from you. Not only does a clear set of policies encourage shopping, it also protects both the buyer and you.

Your policies don’t have to be long, but they do need to cover all the bases. You don’t want your customers to be surprised later on. Instead, give them all the tools they need to make their buying experience smooth and pleasant.

“Prospects may be wary of the hidden costs of a purchase or uneasy about how to return items when they’re unsatisfied,” says Internet marketer Alex Cohen. “Anticipate these concerns by making your policies easy to find and customer friendly.”

Speaking of friendly, consumers will likely go elsewhere when a seller’s tone seems unfriendly. Don’t criticize shoppers for asking questions and don’t chide them within your policies (“We are NOT Walmart and we don’t provide refunds.”). This may seem like an obvious guideline, but some online sellers have been known to communicate like this.Give buyers all the tools they need to make their buying experience smooth and pleasant

Here are some other things that must be considered when constructing your policies:


Include the types of payment you accept. If you sell on eBay, be sure you’re not violating any of the marketplace’s payment policies. Explain how long you’ll wait to receive their payment before filing an unpaid-item claim and, if you ask buyers to contact you before paying, how long you’ll wait to hear from them.

iGavel provides a thorough example of how you might write up payment terms.


Shipping options should be easy for buyers to understand. Let your customers know what type of shipping services you offer and how much they should expect to pay. If possible, provide a shipping cost estimator that can calculate shipping costs based on zip code.

If you offer free shipping, market it as if it’s a sale. Be upfront about any other costs, such as handling or insurance fees. Consumers also want to know an expected handling and delivery time, and if there are any limitations, such as whether you will ship internationally or not.

Consider including in your shipping policy any “gift options.” Will you ship only to the billing address, or are you willing to ship to another recipient? Will you offer gift wrapping and include a gift receipt?

On a side note, consider how you want to present your company in terms of packaging. It goes without saying that a package should be well-protected for delivery, but sellers differ on their views about employing used or new boxes. Another option to consider is how pretty your packaging will be when the buyer opens the box. Is that necklace going to arrive in a frilly blue organza bag or a plain Ziploc bag?

“Your shipping policy should not be the factor that keeps someone from buying”Finally, Cohen says there are four types of shipping policies:

  1. Those that discourage you to buy (expensive or confusing shipping)
  2. Those that encourage you to buy (free or flat-rate shipping)
  3. Those that encourage you to spend more (free shipping if you spend $X)
  4. Those that are neutral (fairly priced and intuitive)

“The first rule of shipping policies is: Do no harm,” he says. “Your shipping policy should not be the factor that keeps someone from buying.”

Terms of sale

The terms of sale might summarize payment and shipping expectations, but it also clarifies your return policies. A well-written return policy makes buyers more comfortable about doing business with you because they have a clear understanding about what to expect.

A good return policy should include details on how long the customer will have to return the item and under what conditions, such as who will pay for return shipping. It should also describe how refunds or exchanges are offered, whether there are any restocking fees and how fast you are able to turn over the exchange.

“The goal for small business owners is to balance the importance of satisfying your client against the cost and inconvenience associated with merchandise returns,” says artist Harriete Berman, who offers examples of return policies on her blog.

Other things to consider

In general, your company’s policies explain to buyers how you do business. Spelling out your payment, shipping and return policies assures customers that you have their best interest in mind. It answers all the questions they might have regarding transactions.

If you provide a support forum or FAQs, be sure to link to these from your policies page. Also add a link to your “About Us” page so customers can continue researching who’s behind the company.

About the author

Sarah Brown
Sarah Brown is a freelance writer who writes about e-commerce and small businesses. She recently graduated from Chico State with a journalism degree and is also a budding online entrepreneur, having launched two Web businesses and her own line of handmade products. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

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