I’m not sure how I feel about digital product refund periods these days.

My first few years online conditioned me to think that a 30 to 60 day refund period was absolutely necessary. I’m not sure how true that is, though.

I don’t know the history of digital products being sold online but I feel like the super long sales copy era (you know… with the yellow highlights and thick dashed borders) created the idea that refunds should not only be given for long periods of time, but they should also be a main selling point.

I don’t really believe that anymore, though.

First of all, the product itself matters. If you don’t consider the product when developing your return policy, you’re doing it wrong.

I give a 14-day refund period on Volatyl. Why? Because it may take a little time to really put a theme to use, check its compatibility with necessary plugins, etc. Plus, it might not be right for everyone and I’m okay with that. 14 days is enough time to figure these things out.

I don’t allow refunds on theme skeletons, though. The demos show/tell you everything you need to know about them. If you like the demo, commit. If you don’t, move on. No refunds needed.

A couple of my buddies and I are releasing a plugin soon and its refund policy will most likely be even shorter than Volatyl’s. I will also include conditions that will nullify your refund on the first day if certain actions are taken.

It’s not a penalty or a lack of quality assurance. It’s simple common sense and smart business.

What are your thoughts on refunds? I totally expect lifetime consumers (never sold anything) to feel a certain way. While consumers matter, there can be an entitlement mentality that I don’t necessarily agree with. Most merchants probably feel me on that one.

Let me know your thoughts.

Published by Sean Davis

When I'm not developing WordPress themes and plugins, I'm usually helping further the Easy Digital Downloads project, traveling, or playing racquetball. Say hi on Twitter. @SDavisMedia

11 Comments

  1. Sean:

    Any policy is fine, as long as it’s disclosed and doesn’t create opportunistic stuff.

    One thing that I’d do on the support page is this: first time support has a chance to request a refund or get help. If they choose help, no refund.

    That’s an experiment. Basically – we are cool coasting as long as the total % is less than 2% and it is. So no policy needed.

    Reply
    • That makes sense, Chris.

      I like that idea about the first support request. That’s actually very similar to what we’ll be doing with this plugin. It won’t be a traditional support request that kills eligibility for refund but it’s along the same lines where if we commit to helping them use it in a certain way, no refunds allowed.

      Reply
  2. Sean, thanks for all your wonderful work!

    Hey I just purchased a theme for my latest project and it only took me a few minutes to decide it was a keeper so the length of the refund shouldn’t even be an issue.

    I like this spot so I’ll be back to check in from time to time.

    Thanks for being awesome.

    Reply
    • Thanks for commenting! I’m not sure why we never stop and think about refund periods but when you do, it’s not hard to tell they should vary based on the product. I’m glad you agree!

      Reply
  3. I think a 14 day window is very fair for most plugins and themes. Like you said, you can figure out pretty quickly if a product is going to work or not.

    It’s weird, most of the commercial products ecosystem in WordPress are polar opposite with, say, (information/internet) marketers. Big refund guarantees, even up to a year, have proven to work, even for physical products. For some reason most of the themes and plugins that are for sale have no refund option whatsoever. I think that’s terrible, not just for consumers, but for marketing in general.

    Unless the product is extremely faulty, customers can’t get refunds in most market places for WP products. Many popular independent sellers have a no-refund policy. The “It’s a digital product” excuse just doesn’t stack up to me. More shops should take the long term view. That disgruntled customer that doesn’t like the product and finds out that the product doesn’t solve their problem? Well, with no refund, not only was it a waste of time, it was a waste of money too. It creates a general knock on effect of distrust in buying WordPress products in general. It’s a kick in the face. Better to refund the person, not only does the customer feel better, they may yet refer other people who might fit the product.

    Reply
    • I partially disagree. I think the product itself matters. For example, I will always have a refund period for Volatyl because of what it is. I made it for somewhat knowledgable coders so if they were to buy it just to see the core code and check its efficiency, I definitely think they should be able to get a refund if they don’t like my code and are not comfortable with putting it on a client’s website.

      For something like Optin Agent, though, what they are purchasing is exactly what they see. HTML, CSS, and images put together to create exactly what’s on the screen before they purchase. Why does there need to be a refund period? The HTML is just HTML. The CSS is just CSS. The images are images. Everything is so pure that anyone with a little web knowledge can use their browser inspector and literally get my form structure for free. So what could go wrong after they buy it that wasn’t already wrong before purchasing?

      At that point, the refunds are nothing but marketing techniques… the trust factor. If it’s necessary to offer refunds, I definitely will. But not everything needs to offer that. Being a digital product certainly doesn’t make it okay to not offer refunds. But there are plenty of cases where offering a refund on digital products is just plain silly.

      Reply
      • I don’t see where you disagree. Optin forms that are just html & css, I’d put that up there with stock images etc too. No refund necessary. Plugins and themes, especially ones that are complex, my feeling is that there should be a refund period, not all businesses offer one, in fact I don’t recall any of the products I’ve bought of having a legitimate one.

        Classic example for me was S2Member. It comes with a big learning curve and it’s a very time intensive solution to get your head around. In my case, it took me some time banging my head before I understood it wasn’t going to solve my problems. Long story short I applied for a refund pretty soon after buying, after pouring in dozens of hours, but didn’t get one awarded. It was BS. I don’t think that worked in their favour either.

        I rarely buy marketplace themes because (although it’s getting better), code quality and ease of implementation was so often a severe let down in the themes I tried – it’s not worth the gamble. If I didn’t have the same amount of pre-emptive distrust, I’d probably be trying out new themes more regularly. It’s a pity refund policies for plugins and themes aren’t more standard.

        Reply
        • Okay yea we’re on the same page. I don’t hop around the theme market too much so I don’t know what’s normal out there. I only know the frameworks. Thesis just changed its policy in October to offer no refunds. Chris had his reasons. I wouldn’t do it, though. It’s not in my foreseeable future, I should say.

          Reply
  4. […] Check it out: Digital Product Refund Periods: Is the “Standard” Just a Trend? […]

    Reply
  5. […] the refund period for your digital products (e.g. 10 days), think about what the product is and how much time a customer might need to be able to assess the product and its compatibility, functionality, and […]

    Reply
  6. Hello Sean,
    Nice to meet you here.. 🙂

    Wonderful article indeed.. I agree with your all point of view. You are brilliant so that it is possible to think about product refund policy.

    I got happy to see discussion in your comment box. Keep writing..

    Thanks a lot for sharing an amazing informative idea..

    Have a nice weak ahead..
    – Ravi.

    Reply

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