So, there’s this customer service “practice” happening in the online course space, and . . . I’m not a fan. Let me explain, and then please, tell me how you feel in the comments.
Why I’m strongly against online course and digital product refund policies that make people do X amount of work or jump through fiery hoops to get a refund.
I write this blog for you. I create tools for you. I stay up at night dreaming, scheming, and creating for you. Not just in the “I say this because this is how online marketers are supposed to talk” way, but in the “No, literally, I relate to where you are and who you are, and where I had to come from to create various businesses and products I love” kinda way.
Refund policies that make clients submit worksheets, and modules, and proof of this and that and the other rub me the wrong way.
If your entire audience consists of people who don’t care about money at all, then cool.
If you have people in your audience that care about spending their money on things they get value out of, or who are on a specific budget, or who may, despite your wishes and requests, spend their last dollar on your program, then hmm.
If your audience potentially includes people like the people I know . . . where an emergency may come up a few days after they purchased your truly great program, but they need money all of the sudden and you advertised a “100% money-back guarantee” . . . then let’s talk about the real reason you make it a chore to get that money back. It’s not like everyone is going to have an emergency.
Let me not get too deep into a rant just yet, and actually outline my reasons for saying that self-serving refund policies disturb me, plus tell you why I think they are so self-serving in the first place:
1. They are not what people expect, assume, or want.
I was at a vegan restaurant in Playa del Carmen, Mexico the other day and I ordered some pie. Let me be honest here. It was disgusting. I didn’t want to be rude to the chef so I took two bites instead of just one, but then I just couldn’t do it anymore.
Laura, a super kind lady who works there, noticed that I didn’t eat the pie when she brought me the check and asked if it was okay. I was honest that it wasn’t my favorite, but that I was, of course, going to pay for it. She said, “No. If you didn’t like it, I’m taking it off of your bill.”
This is the level of service that sticks out to clients. (I’ve been back to that restaurant 25 times since the pie because I have a new level of trust for them.) The average consumer who buys online courses and digital programs is used to being able to take any item back, whether food, drink, clothing, or otherwise, within a reasonable amount of time to get their money back. We don’t expect you to come to our homes, make sure we’re using the new boots we bought, but have a $50 refund waiting in your pocket if we aren’t using them, but we do expect to be able to bring the boots back if we don’t use them or if they hurt.
When you want something removed from your bill at a restaurant, they don’t make you eat the pie in front of them, or try at least 50% of it to make sure it really doesn’t work for you. The attendant at the clothing store doesn’t make you wear the blazer for 25 minutes in front of them and stare at yourself in the mirror the whole time to try to assess your deep wounds/reasons for not feeling you look good in said blazer.
We expect to be able to return something we don’t want anymore, or gasp, realized we really couldn’t afford (we’re human; we make mistakes and miscalculate) or fit into our lives, but we were carried away with the hype or sales tactics.
2. They serve the course/product creator solely. They do not serve you, the customer.
I’ve yet to meet the person, not saying they don’t exist, who loves the fact that they wanted to get a refund for a course, but were told they had to submit 5 screenshots of work, 22 pages of the workbook—completed, and a statement that they really gave it their best. Perhaps there is one story of someone who did the work and then realized, “Oh no. I love this course and the creator for making me do this.” I’ve just never met that person.
You are the one investing hard earned money and time into the program. I personally believe you should have the right to change your mind, run into an emergency and need the money back within a reasonable amount of time, or realize you made a rush decision or a decision off of faulty/incomplete information that the course’s affiliate, sales page, etc. gave you.
If you think of my ridiculous illustration above of trying to return a blazer and the store representative making you try it on and stare at yourself for 25 minutes, the store is now moving into the realm of life coaching, psychiatry, and spiritual healing.
I can hear the person saying, “Why don’t you feel like you deserve this blazer? Why are you not willing to put in the work to make this blazer everything it can be in your wardrobe?”
And you’re like, “Umm. I just didn’t realize it had purple polka dots on the back and that it is a little too loose in the front.”
3. They establish a mother-child relationship with you, the client. The one paying money. From one adult to another.
Here’s my favorite thing ever. Extreme sarcasm. I saw a headline a few months ago for an old interview session that one big name industry person did with another big name industry person. The headline was interesting, “How SoAndSo lowered return rates . . .”
I clicked. I read the text that went with the session so you could get a gist of what would be talked about. I almost threw my computer across the room in disgust. I showed my friend what I thought was the most outlandish, ridiculous stuff ever. He agreed that it was terrible business.
The person lowered their return rates by making it harder to return the course. That was not even the hidden message of the “resource,” it was the very highlighted and praised message of the interview session. Something about how it makes people be more responsible for actually doing the work. Nothing about how the course creator invested time in improving the experience of the product.
My thinking (as someone who has both people who’ve asked for refunds AND amazing super supporters who buy everything, happily): If 20 – 30% of the people who invest in a program want their money back (first off: I would die, then need to be brought back to life to fix the issues), it is less likely that it’s related to the client and their sense of personal responsibility, and more likely that they can’t understand the value of the program yet, or that they were confused during the buying process, or that the program doesn’t do what it said it would. All of those things are on us as the course creators.
So, turning a refund into an “opportunity” to teach a grown adult a lesson about personal responsibility is a little too “Am I 7 years old?” for me.
4. They’re a bad business practice.
A couple of months ago, I felt like I was frozen in time/twilight reading a horror story when someone linked to the Facebook post of a course/program creator they used to love (someone I’d never heard of, but has a large following online) when this course creator went into a long story about refusing to refund a woman who said she needed the money back for a health procedure.
It was so painful to read. Even if this woman completely made up a medical condition and wanted the money back to buy 1,000 yo-yos for herself and 53 chew toys for her dog.
The course creator framed her adamant, “No.” as the best thing for this client, as standing up for herself, and as believing in the strength of her program and not being bullied by people who don’t want to do the work.
I expected the comments on this post to be FIRE DRAGON level. And indeed, many people expressed dismay and extreme disappointment in the course creator (to which she replied individually something along the lines of “Look inside yourself to see why you have a problem with what I did.”), but what surprised me is that the post had a few, “You go girl!” comments. “Way to not back down.” “You showed her.”
I believe in my heart that most course creators, even those who have a “You have to send me a blood sample and gold doubloon to get a refund” policy would choose to give back the money to someone who says they’re in need, so I really use this just to show that making refunds hard typically isn’t good business.
Do you get to keep the money? Yes. But at what cost? You are creating an environment where people speak poorly of your brand.
I was teaching an in-person workshop on online courses (ahh, the irony) last year when a few attendees went on a rant/tangent when they discovered they had all purchased a certain course from a specific brand online . . . had all not liked the experience . . . but had all been unable to ask for a refund in time because of the work they had to submit (that they didn’t realize) or had decided to just forego the refund attempt because of how much work it was.
Did they have anything positive to say about this course or the brand behind it? No. Did they pass on a certain impression of this course and brand to those of us listening in amazement? Yes. Was that good for that brand? No.
Oh, and here are a few personal reasons not everyone will agree with:
5. The refund policies are usually enforced by people who don’t need your money.
Whether the program is $250 or $2500, the person usually doesn’t need your money to survive.
6. These policies don’t put much pressure on the course creator to create something amazing that is easy to understand. And then motivate people to begin.
It places the pressure on the client to begin, progress at the rate the course creator would like, then submit proof if the materials don’t work.
7. The refund policies seem lazy.
Whereas if you run a business where you’ve incurred significant extra costs to take on a new customer (renting a physical space for an event that can fit everyone, creating a gift bag, etc.), it can make total sense to not allow certain refunds, but for online course creators delivering a digital product, the marginal cost to bring on one additional student isn’t (to me) justification for keeping their registration amount if they want it back.
As the product provider, wait until 30 days after the person has purchased, and then on the 31st day count the income as real. If you’re not as attached to it and to making a specific amount, it won’t be a big deal to process the few refund requests you might get.
To be honest, I much, much prefer when people state that there is no refund (where legal), and I’m pretty sure I bought a digital kit with that knowledge before, over people using language like “100% satisfaction guarantee” or “try this risk free” or any number of phrases, when the fine print is that we really have a few days with your program to figure out if we like it, then we have to do the most to detach from it.
If you’re in the online business space, you might wisely be asking “Why in the heck would you write a blog post that is going to cause big industry names to not ever want to work with you, Regina?”
1. If the industry person is someone who actually finds they agree with some of the points above, and decides they don’t really need their return policy the way it is, then we all win, because more information is available truly risk free.
If the industry person is someone who reads this and hates me, then I’ve successfully helped to disqualify us as awesome collaborators in the future. I would have views that they hate, and they would have views that I don’t believe serve the people I want to serve.
I’ve accidentally introduced you to (through this blog and past collaborations) brands that don’t stand for you the way I would want anyone I introduce you to to stand for you, and I don’t want to do it again.
2. I’m going to be very frank and “nontraditional Regina” here, I don’t need one specific relationship with one specific industry name in order to make money and live. I need you. And I need to continue to build a brand through which I can help you create a business that doesn’t rely on one specific industry person for you to make money and live either.
3. Lastly, if I don’t use the platform that I spent long hours and actual blood, sweat, and so many tears building to ACTUALLY serve you and to take a moment to say, “Hey, there’s another way. Anyone who will listen, check out what message you might be sending with your return policy.” then what am I doing?
Pause. Let me not be 100% rant-y and 0% helpful in your quest for the perfect return + refund policy. First, if you are the creator of courses and digital products, if you are an infopreneur like I am, then I would suggest thinking through your different policies and preferences for eBooks, email courses, online courses, templates, and events.
As an example, my refund policy on eBooks is 14 days. I figure that’s enough time for most people to get use out of, and make a decision on, a book that’s 100 pages or so.
My refund policy for courses is typically 30 days. There are exceptions when there are in-person components (and I’m literally holding one of 5 – 10 spots for you), but I try to give people enough time.
My policy on live events is that you can request a refund through the end of the day of the event. If you wait until the day after, it’s a bit odd since the event has already been delivered. But, if someone told me they watched my live event and didn’t get value out of it, I’d give them their money back and truly question what went wrong for them.
These weren’t always my refund policies. I had to live and learn through some silly phases of mine (like a 10-day time period—for what, Regina? . . . or a 14-day refund period but then the course doesn’t even start for 10 more days). This ridiculousness was a result of moving too fast through everything I had to do, or being shorthanded and leaving administrative details until the very end.
I recommend really taking some time to think through what you want, what your client wants, what you need, and if your fear of refunds is based more on your feelings of how hard-working your audience is going to be (eye roll emoji) or of how incomplete/confusing/etc. your product may appear to someone.
Do the things on the presentation side (what you tell people before they buy), the experience side (how you treat your students and how you guide them through the materials—I’m still testing the best ways to do this), and the backend of your product (its organization, ease of use, completeness, and more) to alleviate your stress and fears about refunds. Build a product so good that if someone asks for a refund, it has nothing to do with you.
P.S. Here’s a tool/product you can use to generate your return policy—among other policies and legal language.
Let me end by saying . . .
People who have jump-though-hoops return policies are not necessarily bad teachers, bad people, or people who don’t care about others. That is NOT the message I’m trying to send. Also, there are a lot of people doing returns in super ethical ways. Ways that inspire me and that I can learn from.
This is a call for anyone who will listen to not take a practice into your own business or life simply because that’s what some big names do. If you want to have a course with a specific refund policy, I’d encourage you to think about why you want that policy, who it serves, what you would want if you were the client, and how to explain your reasoning plus create an environment where someone is not both pressured into the sale and then told they have to do the most to get a refund for the item.
I am certainly against these policies because of the people I serve, but if you have reasons for supporting these policies, please do not be afraid to share them with us below. I think we can all benefit from hearing each other out and from critical thinking, so please don’t take my rant as a closed issue. Yes, I have this platform so that I can talk about things I believe affect you (the people I write for), but I love to hear and learn from you and others as well.
I agree with this when it comes to courses. Services, on the other hand, are completely different, especially if they’re digital. I love the 30 day policy for my course that I’m launching this month, but after I’ve sent any deliverables to clients, they can’t receive a refund. It’s way too easy for them to just take the design and run- I’ve seen it happen way too many times!
Yes. I 100% agree with you that contracting for services is way different. Even though we design different types of things, I feel you!
Haha… Yes, Stephanie, I think you have a great point here. Service-based business should be treated differently.
Cases where I encourage having a refund policy is mainly in digital products such as softwares. If the software is not working and the creator can’t fix it, then asking for a refund is not a bad idea.
In that case too, the product creator should be able to block the person from accessing the software since it’s no longer useful to them.
That’s my humble submission.
Thanks Regina for raising this issue.
This is definitely an eye-opener. I’ve not actually come across a refund policy like that – touch wood – but it definitely makes me think that I should look into it before making a purchase.
I’m working on my first course at the minute, and I’ve not yet got to the refund policy, but my plan is to make it as simple and accessible as possible.
Kerry, ooh congratulations on your first course–and yay for a simple and accessible refund policy! When do you plan to release it?
Thank you for taking the time to comment, by the way.
Thank you! I literally was turned off by a course immediately after I had my debit card out ready to purchase because I felt the course creator was already “talking down to me” with the terms and language of the refund policy. Plus thanks so much for the plug on TermsFeed 😃
OMG, right? Like. Did you just try to give me a stern talking to before I even buy your course? I’m good.
And yes, TermsFeed is so easy to use, I’ve purchased a few policies from them for separate brands. Thank you for commenting, Annalisa.
I just have to say this….sweet Regina stay you…..fir the past few months I have consumed anything and everything blog…..hoping to start soon….I love your content, I love your style and from what I can tell you are taken but I would totally adopt you ad my 3rd daughter….ROK ON sweetie, ROCK ON!
Awwww, Sharon! Thank you. I’d love to hear back from you after you’ve started your blog, too. I’d like to check it out. P.S. Don’t tell my mom, but I’m always open to being adopted into additional families. Jaja!
I appreciate your comment!
Great article Regina. I really like that you’ve raised the need to question the practices used by other business owners, and given me a new perspective on how I proceed with my own courses and products.
A couple of years ago I was really let down by a refund policy where I needed to prove I’d done the work, and it still makes me feel regret and disappointment. The sales pitch was really hardcore and I was feeling like, wow, doing this course is really going to change my business! I got access to the course just before Christmas (so not a great time to get stuck into something like this) and wasn’t immediately impressed by the content. I thought it was ok, but maybe not really worth the high course fee so decided I needed to delve deeper. After looking through it further I was feeling hesitant to continue (it cost nearly $1000, and money was tight) so I reached out to the course creator and asked if it would be possible for me to extend the trial period for another couple of weeks so I could try more stuff. She replied saying that it would be ‘out of integrity’ for her to do that, and unfair on all the other students to give me special treatment (so, guilted me into thinking I was being a jerk). She said that I needed to invest in myself and also said she would help guide me through the first few steps to get started. However, the advice she eventually gave me a few days later was to use a ‘low hanging fruit’ strategy in order to get some money coming into my business, but didn’t even explain what she meant or how it might apply to my situation. Like I wouldn’t have done it already if it was so easy! Sheesh!
It was her offer to guide me that made me think that maybe I’d give the course another chance, so essentially I missed the 30 day cut-off waiting for her reply, and therefore she ultimately got my $1000. Ugh. As a result I feel really disillusioned by her and haven’t gone back in to try to salvage what I can from the course. Lesson learned!
I totally understand. Going through something very similar right now. I paid to have special leadership training $2000. We are 2/3 of the way through the course. I ask from the beginning what I was going to be doing. No direction was given. I asked for a refund. I don’t care if they want to keep the initial $497 for the course but, I was told no refund, however, if i wanted they would give me 1 on 1 for the next twelve weeks which according to them was above and beyond what they would normally charge. Mind you this is what they offered me after I asked for a refund. That’s not what I signed up for. I think from the get go there should have been something set up with the course creator. I don’t think it was my job to go after them. Anyway very bad taste in my mouth and Regina you are so right. I will never do business with this person in the future. Oh and they told me I would have preferential treatment on any courses they do in the future. Not likely.
I actually read this article the whole way through instead of skimming. I’m not even at the point yet where I’m launching courses or digital products but I found this so helpful. Putting the cart in front of the horse I’ve already wondered what I would do about return policies, etc. and found myself really conflicted about which way I wanted to go. But you’ve definitely made things a little more clear for me. Thank you!
Thanks so much for this blog post, Regina! ♥︎
As a new entrepreneur, it’s so easy to doubt myself — and I’m especially doubtier when I see big names (I read that article!) talk about how this and that are best practices, when these best practices feel a little “… really?” Because then I fall back on, “but hey, what do I know, I’m new here, and SoandSo is so successful, do they have a point though?”
What ends up happening is I get stuck in paralysis. I don’t want to do something that would have made me, as a customer, feel bad. But I also then don’t know, so, what else can I do?
So thank you so much for this! For showing that sometimes things are, while not necessarily bad, totally legitimately questionable + why. Aka thanks for making me feel like I wasn’t just going a little bit loopy. This was really helpful, and has validated the way I would like to do business myself. The suggestions make such good sense that they got me thinking about my own stuff — that I now feel better about getting around to!
I appreciate this, and I appreciate you! ♥︎
P.S. I haven’t yet asked for a refund from anyone online, but have totally not-bought stuff based on sketchy refund policies!
Thank you for this. It made me look a lot more closely at some courses I was considering. I’d never seen the “must complete X amount of content” form of refund policy before, ouch. I absolutely agree with keeping refunds simple. When I launch my own courses I’d much rather stand by the quality of my content, and stick to keeping customers happy instead of locking them into something.
And that’s why we love you. Customer first, people first. What a lady. Honestly, these ego driven people need to step back into reality.
Aw Regina, I actually teared up while reading this, especially
“I’m going to be very frank and “nontraditional Regina” here, I don’t need one specific relationship with one specific industry name in order to make money and live. I need you. And I need to continue to build a brand through which I can help you create a business that doesn’t rely on one specific industry person for you to make money and live either.”
This post is so inline with how I’ve been feeling as someone who is currently the most broke and literally desperate to start making money from my biz asap (and am guilty of an accidentally letting a free trial I didn’t use go into the paid period 3 months later, and was not able to get a refund of $99 for something I didn’t actually use at all), and also wanting to help out other dreamers trying to get their thing going too, to not feel “tricked” into buying things they don’t need or even understand how to use, because a big name makes them feel rushed into it, whether intentional or not.
My jaw has definitely dropped when hearing a big name refer to something that’s $97 as a “tiny product,” and feels like they must not know, or forgot what it’s like to think in terms of “which bills will get paid this month, and which will keep racking up the credit card?” It’s still really hard for me to swallow the idea of selling a product for $97 myself, and if I do I’ll probably be like “but if you can’t afford it, just pay what you can!’ lol 😛
I am someone who understands that sometimes you DO need to invest in yourself, but not everyone has money to throw around at the next shiny product…they need their investments to count! And so I do make purchases to help me (like your course ha!), because I so desperately need and want to eventually not have to worry about this stuff all the time.
Anyway, sorry for the long, long comment! I just wanted you to know how much it means to hear someone who has already found their success acknowledge that those of us who haven’t made it there yet can maybe use a little extra empathy and patience;) <3
MJ, I just had to respond to your comment because I am 100% right there with you! It really blows my mind that some of these courses go for hundreds of dollars (or upwards of $1k) and don’t offer solid, secure, refund policies.
Right now, I’m building a course that I am juuuust feeling comfortable and confident about the idea of charging $XX for, because of how much value it has, and abso-freakin-lutely am I going to have a no-questions-asked refund policy. I am STILL that person who needs to watch every dollar coming in and out of my bank account, and I know that a lot of the people who would buy my course probably are the same way as well.
I appreciate your comment and Regina’s post because I totally get how you feel and that it’s so important that these courses, e-books, etc. serve their intended audiences.
There is also one other drawback to that inane policy, Visa and Mastercard hate it. I would be forwarding a copy of the policy to my credit card company so they could process a charge back instead of a refund. With the service charges for every charge back and the possibility going over the processors fraud/charge back thresholds, they wouldn’t be long in changing the policy.
Couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve just invested into a ‘list lab’ course for payment of $97 x6. I watched the 1st few videos and realised this was very basic stuff. All about what an email list is and why we should be building one. I needed some solid tech walkthroughs and step by step game plan and that’s what was on the sales page, I realised early on this course wasn’t going to be a fit for my business. There is only one tech video which shows you around MailChimp for 5 minutes…..
But now I am having to jump through hoops to get a refund. I need to…
– complete workbook and send proof
– set up a website and provide a link to a freebie and opt-in form I have created
– photos of my email list
– screenshots of my google analytics page
– screenshot of my about page with another freebie on there too
– proof of active participation in the facebook group!!
– screenshots of me emailing past buyers asking them to sign up to my list
– oh yeah, and complete ALL 12 modules and all work associated
….. in less than 10 days! Yep, so now I’m sat here on the verge of a breakdown. trying to rack my head around how I’m going to do all of that. I’m a young mama, a student, business owner and to top it off my partner is just finishing up treatment for stage 3b Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
This is why I love coming to Regina’s resources. She’s actually for humans.
There are some really icky course creators out there. I almost took a $1k on creating a signature course and then found out the creator had completely deceived her audience about her past businesses and revenue. She claimed she was making $10k+ on etsy selling vintage clothes but her etsy store had 90 sales…..
I feel like there should be a website out there for customers to provide honest feedback and rate courses. It would be so helpful.
Lily, oh my freaking goodness. I can not even understand this. How freaking terrible. Will you please email me at heyhuman at byregina.com? I want to send you a little something. This makes me so sad. Booooooooo!
And thank you for commenting.
I think i took the same list launch course as you and am frustrated by the refund policy. I was told I had to produce my completed workbook and proof I’d done everything. Hello? The reason I want the return in the first place is because this course didn’t provide enough technical details to do what I needed. I ended up having to pay even MORE money to go buy a mini course elsewhere to supplement the material this more expensive course won’t cover. It left a HUGELY bad taste in my mouth.
Regina. Epic post. thank you for writing and sharing this. I have been ‘trained’ in different ways. One person said to have a strict no refund policy as my sewing patterns are something that can be used immediately. another say that I should have a 30 day policy that required proof of doing the work – for my sewing course…
I myself know that I have taken three paid online courses. One was for $37 and taught me how to use Indesign. I learnt so much I would never have asked for a refund. Another course was $800 and was really essential at helping me to set up my online business. This is the course that has stopped me from buying from you – there is quite a bit of crossover with your Business School For Humans and I cannot afford to buy multiples of the ‘same’ product. Otherwise, I’d have bene there in a dash! 🙂 The third course I actually almost requested a refund. It was $450 and I had 60 days to do the work and proved that I hadn’t made the results. I did the work. I did get the results. But, because of the first course (same person), it was hard to tell whether the results were from the first course that I implemented several months earlier, and taught similar strategies.. I’ll never know for sure, but I do know that I couldn’t prove that the strategy didn’t work for me on course two, because there was too much overlap with Course 1.
Anyhow, I have rambled. I shall stop. It has been super helpful to read this post and give me ideas on my own refund policies. Thank you!
I agree with your article… If you offer a course or product that has been tested and deemed successful you should offer a “no hassle” money back guarantee.
So many people are so self absorbed that they can’t take a closer look and see that 1- they are targeting the incorrect customers 2- that their product/courses sucks and 3- this is their “baby” so they won’t take any constructive criticism.
#1 is a big one. I think people fail to really understand what their current customer want and will pay for without being HEAVILY SOLD. I think part of the problem is the insane sales copy. I have fell for this too many times…. I mean the way it hypes you up there is bound to be a let down. I fell into this trap with my biz and basically created unrealistic expectations. Sales Copy is important but if I have to twist our arm with millions of emails and tons of webinars and collabs what is the point. This year I have been really focusing on the type of business I want to have and not what the gurus tell me I should have.
I totally agree. I can see how a great refund policy could boost customer lifetime value.
I invested a lot in one program that I don’t think merited the price. And, they had a policy that required you to do all the work to cancel. Instead of jumping through hoops, I decided to eat the cost. Now, every month when I see that monthly deduction on my bank statement, I feel a little burned. If I had gotten a refund, I think I would have continued to follow and engage with the course creator – I would’ve simply thought: “That person is still cool and know what they’re talking about, but this particular product wasn’t for me.”
Now, however, when they launch another product, service or event, I’ll be much less interested in trying it out.
These types of refund policies aren’t to protect the revenue of the course creator, they’re to attract the right type of people…people who are actually going to do the work and execute.
A big issue with online programs is tire-kickers. They’re a waste of everyone’s time. If someone knows up front that they have to execute, they’re vetted better.
These types of refund policies communicate to people up front, “This is a SERIOUS course. Do not sign up unless you intend to execute.”
Kevin, I can totally understand your underlying point that it’s a good idea to try to attract only people who are ready to execute and serious, but I think that can be done in your messaging, pricing, perhaps even an application process, etc. Not everyone will have the time or desire to implement all these things, but I think they’re a better option than passing the cost on to the customer in a sense. If someone gets in, finds out your materials/tone don’t work for them at all, why make it so hard?
I agree with the application process. I recently have decided to start doing that for my services
I agree Kevin. The examples in this article aren’t even apples to apples. If you don’t like the pie, you may not have to pay for it but you also don’t get to take it home either. If you haven’t worn the shoes and want a refund, you can get one but you can’t keep the shoes! We can not be so foolish as to compare digital products to tangible items. The refund policy does need to be different.
However, I also don’t like these “jump through hoops for a refund” policies. They really do sound crazy even if you can understand the purpose. There are better more positive approaches.
Yeah, Virginia, these were meant as loose comparisons. Selling digital products online is relatively new in the grand scheme of things.
And yes, you don’t get to keep the shoes or take the pie home, so why not also remove access of your online program for your customer after they request a refund? Of course, you will have people who rip your videos if they want to, but they will do that anyway.
You can also drip out your course to help people manage the steps and to be able to remove future access to unreleased lessons if the person asks for a refund.
I don’t think it’s “foolish” as you say to compare digital products to tangible items, but thank you for coming on the blog and sharing your take on it. I think it’s all a part of a valuable discussion.
All the more reason to love you!!! I’ve never understood these policies. The rate of requesting a refund is already low. Like just be a good person and let them have it. You make hundreds of sales so I doubt this ONE OR TWO is going to have a huge impact.
I saw a post today about refunds and someone’s comment was literally “Not your problem :)” and I wanted to vomit. Some of us infopreneurs have gotten a bit greedy.
I totally agree. I can see how a great refund policy could boost customer lifetime value.
I myself am kind of leary nowadays about buying too much of anything online, unless it’s sneakers from famous name sneaker store retailers, paying my hosting bill by card which is taken out monthly, and only using PayPal to complete purchases. Back in the day, I did buy Joel Comm’s AdSense money making guide and Jeremy Palmer’s Quot your day job and get in affiliate marketing with a gift card “if I can remember,” before getting my PayPal account. I was happy and content buying from them because I know they can be trusted and they had decent refund policies. Thanks for mentioning this post as it brought back good memories of they days I was just getting started in affiliate marketing and gung-ho about buying this and buying that e-book online. 🙂
This is honestly part of the reason why I keep putting courses off. I’m working on my second eBook instead. I’ve taken my fair share of courses and I think most of them had the refund policy that stated you had to prove you did the work. Out of all the courses I’ve invested in, I’ve loved all but one. The one I didn’t love wasn’t a bad course, but it was too simple. Luckily, the eBook I got for free with the course made it worth it.
Wow, I was taught the “prove it didn’t work and I’ll refund” method. After just reading 15% of this post, I knew I should have followed my gut and given a more generous policy. Truth is, it felt icky. Because I know my target market reeeeally well is making a big investment, and taking a big chance on me to help them get results.
I’m changing my policy TO-DAY.
Thank you, Regina.
This is definitely an eye-opener. I’ve not actually come across a refund policy like that – touch wood – but it definitely makes me think that I should look into it before making a purchase. Plus thanks so much for the plug on TermsFeed 😃
Refund policies that make clients submit worksheets, and modules, and proof of this and that and the other rub me the wrong way.
I want to ask a question… I bought a digital copywriting generator service. It was guaranteed to work for any biz… after two weeks of trying, I realize it does nothing for my business whatsoever, poor grammar, empty posts, no real substance… there’s a no refund policy but I have wasted the money and it was a big hit, it’s a website app so I have no copy of the product whatsoever that I can use for myself…
I want to ask for a refund…
Do you see any hope in this? 🙁
I know this post is really old, but… I had to chime in with my thoughts!
I read this post and actually did change my refund policy as a result, and…. got burned by it.
The course I poured my heart and soul into got put onto a sketchy Asian website where it was being sold for way less by someone who stole it and utilized my 60-day no-questions-asked refund policy. I mean he used my same branding and course name and everything and just said he had a great deal on this course for people!
I also had another student who came to all the office hours, got so much support from her fellow students and the group as a whole (and she was doing great!) but then 62ish days after she purchased the course, she wrote in with a sob story of how she couldn’t afford to buy groceries for her family. My team and I felt awful and fell for it and gave her a refund. The very next day we saw that she was running Facebook ads for her business! (The course I taught on.) Hmm… not enough money for groceries but enough to run Facebook ads?
Both of those situations felt so awful. I was stolen from.
I continue to offer a no-questions-asked 30-day refund policy for all the products I sell that are under $100. And that hasn’t been an issue. (Maybe people ARE reselling these products all over the internet, but since they’re lower priced and aren’t my ENTIRE heart, I guess maybe I care a little less?)
But for my premium course that I pour my heart and soul into? I just can’t stomach getting it stolen because someone took advantage of my kindness. Or stomach someone taking hours of my time in office hours and group questions and then asking for it all back — knowing full well they learned a ton and got incredible value from me.
I’m launching a premium course next month. It will be my signature program for years to come, and I honestly don’t know what to do. I price my products pretty low. This one will be under $500 this first time around for sure, but that’s still a big stretch for a lot of my Mamapreneur community.
I don’t want to draw in students who will sit around for 2 months then change their minds, or students who will show up, take full advantage, then STILL want every penny back knowing that they got a ton out of it.
But I agree that the “do the work” policies feel weird too. I don’t want to treat my students like children, but I don’t want to be stolen from or mistreated either.
What to do….
Beth Anne.. wow.. damn. I’ve had something similar happen.
I’m curious.. would a 30 day refund policy help? 62 days seems like too long. Especially when your time is involved.
I was also thinking that there IS a big difference between a product you get to keep and one you don’t. It seems rather obvious to me that there should be protection in place for the creator of digital intellectual property.
I get it though.. On one hand, there’s a case for it being the cost of business.. and that relationships are very important. On the other, that kind of theft does happen, and some things won’t work unless people do the work. As they say, the value isn’t in the theory of the things you buy, but the actions you take that are directed in the course.
My thoughts: Drip content, 30 day guarantee, handle on a case by case basis. I’m all about the lifetime access, too. I took the same course mentioned above and I lost access after a year. That’s not lifetime access.
There has to be a middle ground where the customer feels good, the creator is less vulnerable to theft, and feedback is given so that one can honestly assess if the problem was due to a product that didn’t meet the needs of the customer, or if they simply didn’t do the work.
This is my nature, to see both sides of the story and think of logical solutions.
I just purchased a $997 course.
I had the best of intentions of going through it but life got in the way and realized it wasn’t ideal for me to use.
So I requested a refund and was told I’m not eligible bc it has not been 30 days and I have to complete the course, show my work, produce some tangible items, show I ran $100 of Facebook Ads, video record my screen and only then would I be eligible and even then they want to work with students until it’s right.
This has left a very sour taste and this is how I found your article bc was doing a search about refunds.
I think the article was extremely well written and the comparisons make complete sense. What’s even more annoying is that I hadn’t even logged into the course yet so it’s not like I’m out to steal the content or anything. You’d think course creators would have a bit more commonsense
Because of this experience instead of getting mad I’m going to overhaul my return policy and build my course I’ve been thinking about for months and do right by my students.
Thank you for giving me really great things to think about here. I have actually avoided taking expensive courses from someone I would have loved to take a course from specifically because you can only get a refund if you do all of the work on a specific timeline, submit it to them so they can evaluate what you’ve done, and prove that it did not accomplish whatever your goal was.
Do you include any kind of refund fee to cover credit card processing charges? I had been thinking a 3-day or 5-day 100% refund, which would give someone time to at least look through the product to see if the format or topic is what they expected, but then after that lower it by 5-10% in order to cover the fees of the processor. Or should I focus more on setting prices so that the occasional refund request wouldn’t be as big a deal to me?
I do have a concern about a 14-day refund for an ebook, though. Have you found that people really take advantage of that? For a digital product they download, my concern would be that they pay, download, share it, then ask for a refund. Have you experienced that?
(Website listed below is new and not yet launched with content.)
I have been in the customer service industry for years and know that if you don’t put people first, your business will not do well. The customer is ALWAYS right! No matter what! That’s why refunds are important.
I am just releasing a course that I have spent a great deal of time and money on to give my customers a quality product. Here’s the question: What’s to prevent your customer from purchasing the course for three payments, downloading all the materials and then requesting a refund?
I came across your post because I’m having the hardest time getting my refund back. I panicked and purchased two courses last week. While I have acknowledged the return policy (which is strict and full of hassles), I need my money back. ASAP.
An emergency came up that was out of my control due to what’s going on in the world. And I could use that money for medical costs. I’m not going to get into it on here. However, I have not heard back from the owner whatsoever. I’ve been leaving countless and text messages.
I purchased two courses from Creative Revolt and I feel scammed. I feel like I was just sold to. What if someone wanted to get their refund back after 60 days? Would they receive no response as well?
Sometimes things happen out of our control. I’m not the type of person to enroll an expensive course and suddenly ditch it. Something did come up. And now I need that money back.
The way that Jorden Roper’s team is handling this is leaving a bad taste in my mouth. It makes me think she’s more of a marketer than a writer. If anyone has any advice, please let me know. Thank you!
Thank you for this post. I feel the same as you. Customers first…
I have purchased a course that was nearly 2,000 dollars, with a 30-day money-back policy.
My problem is that there were two co-facilitators that turned out to be just one person, and one that I had never heard of before. If not for my experience with the other presenter, I would never have even looked at the 1.5-hour presentation. It took 5 weeks to figure out the presenter I knew was NOT going to be there. I was so disappointed I requested a refund. I had worked with the other presenter decades ago and was very appreciative of him and what he provided.
They said that it was past the 30-day refund policy and declined my request. …though the course presented was not what was promised or appeared to be promised in the original presentation to sell the course.
It turns out that the time they started the 30 days was from the purchase date of the program, which would make it more than 30 days from my request for a refund. It turns out that the course and access started 2 weeks later. That changed the equation to be within the 30 refund period…
The question is… Do the 30 days start from the course beginning, or from the purchase date?
It seems to me that it would be when the course was delivered… It would be difficult to review if it was not accessible!
I appreciate your position on refunds. I had a successful business for over 50 years and honored my clients much like your examples.