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What’s Your View On Refunds?

Posted on by in Blog

In developed countries it is not uncommon for customers to return products they have purchased for a refund. Sometimes it’s because the product wasn’t suitable whilst other times the customer just changed their mind (clothes are a good example of this). Whatever the reason, if you have proof of your original purchase you can return the product for either a refund.

The rules aren’t the same online, particularly with digital products. Many stores offer 100% money back guarantees on their products whilst others have a zero tolerance rule on refunds and will not give you your money back in any circumstances once you click the buy buttons. Some sellers take this policy as digital products can’t be taken back i.e. once a customer has purchased a theme, plugin or PDF, they can’t exactly take the product back from them if the customer changes their mind about the product.

I can understand why some sellers would adopt a no-refund policy if a large percentage of customers asked for refunds frequently. However, what if the customer has a legitimate reason for asking for a refund? Sellers who offer a no quibble 100% refund guarantee should bee applauded though it is perhaps a lot to ask everyone who sells digital products to give refunds to customers simply because their changed their mind.

My Experiences With Getting Refunds In 2012

I’ve recently had some bad experiences with refunds and it has opened my eyes to how poor the after sales support is from those who sell WordPress related products and services.

For example, I came across a simple social media widget plugin on CodeCanyon a month or so ago and contacted the developer to ask for access to a test area so that I could review the plugin fully (as social media plugin reviews have proved to be very popular here). He did not want to provide this so I took the plunge and purchased the plugin myself for $6 so that I could do a full review for WP Mods readers.

Unfortunately, the plugin didn’t work. It generated lots of errors and made my test area crash, despite me testing the plugin with no other plugins installed and testing it with several popular WordPress themes. The developer was very un-supportive and advised that it worked on his website so it must be something I did wrong.

I get really frustrated when developers refuse to acknowledge problems with their products and automatically place the blame on you for their products working. It was clear the plugin didn’t work therefore I contacted Envato for a refund. They advised that:

Hello Kevin,

Thank you for your message to Envato Support. Due to the nature of our product, we can’t swap and don’t provide credits for an item unless your request falls into one of the following categories:

* The files are malfunctioning or corrupt.
* The files are not what the item description claims.

We would be happy to proceed with your refund request if you feel that your item fits one of the above criteria.
Here’s what we will need from you:

Please explain in detail how it is malfunctioning, corrupt, or not as described. We will then ask one of our reviewers to look over the file, and if we find you are correct we will be more than happy to credit your account for the cost of the item. This process also allows us to identify and fix any problems the file/description may have.

Please also note:

We do not issue refunds for insufficient item support from an author. Although we encourage it, theme authors aren’t required to provide support of any kind.

We do not issue PayPal refunds. For more information, please read the following: | 13. Payments from Member Ledger

Also, if by chance you are having issues with a WordPress theme installation, please see the following URL for video and text instructions –

Warm Regards,

What was frustrating about this reply was that Envato clearly hadn’t read my original email as that clearly stated what was wrong with the plugin and why it wasn’t working. If they didn’t believe what I was claiming, all they had to do was check the comments for the plugin and they would have seen several other unhappy customers reporting the same issues as me.

I wasn’t particularly bothered about the money as the plugin only cost $6 though if I am purchasing a digital product I at least want some assurance that I will get my money back if the product doesn’t work. In the end, they refunded my money, though I was disappointed that I had to send a few emails in order to get it.

My experience with Magazine3 was much worse. I had purchased their WP Mods to use on WP Mods. Within 10 minutes of purchasing the theme I had emailed them for a refund. The options panel was problematic, it was riddled with design issues and the templates were full of coding errors. In short, the theme was a mess and wasn’t fit for purchase.

They apologised, promised to make things better and refused to give me a refund. I spent about 5 full days fixing all the problems that came with the design but it still didn’t work 100% correctly. Against my own better judgement I launched it on WP Mods as updates and improvements were promised. Support was initially great after purchasing but after a week or so they stopped replying to my support queries. My last few emails about problems were simply never answered. Around 5-6 weeks later they released an update that apparently fixed all of the themes problems. It didn’t. It still had lots of little bugs and the templates were a mess with lots of references to classes that weren’t in the theme stylesheet and lots of classes in the stylesheet that were never used in the templates.

At this point I reiterated my disappointment the theme and how it was still very buggy. I had wasted a lot of my time trying to fix the problems the theme had but had reached the point where I no longer wanted to waste any more of my time. I therefore asked for a refund.

As expected, they refused to give me a refund and pointed to the fact that I had the theme was being used on WP Mods and that it had been 5 or so weeks since I purchased the theme. They were right – it had been 5 weeks since I had purchased the design and at the time was used on my site. They seemed to forget the fact that I had asked for a refund immediately after purchasing and realising how buggy the theme was and they refused, that they had stopped responding to my support queries (and other members) and that the theme was still filled with lots of bugs.

Should You Get A Refund For A Digital Product?

I think it’s important to try and see both sides when looking at an issue such as refunds. I love the idea of offering customers 100% money back guarantees that refund the customers money if they aren’t happy, though I understand that a few bad apples can spoil it for everyone and ask for a refund just because they want to try and get the product for free.

Perhaps refunds should always be at the discretion of the seller and looked at individually. I’m of the belief that if the product isn’t working correctly, the customer should get a refund if they want it. For example, if a customer buys a WordPress theme that was specifically made for blogging, I don’t think they should automatically get a full refund just because the design doesn’t natively support video galleries. However, if the theme is buggy and has a lot of problems, the customer should get a refund if they want it (or wait for the problems to be fixed).

It’s worth noting that bad support and a no-refund policy don’t go hand in hand. I recently purchased a theme membership from Theme Junkie and noticed in the forums that they don’t give refunds. I had a few problems with some of the designs but the support I received was top notch.

What’s your view on refunds for digital products? Should you get the same rights as buying a physical product from a store?

Thanks for reading :)


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Comments (18)

Comment by Rachael Towne says:

I agree that customers of digital products should have a way to get their money back. I had a similar problem with code canyon once. I bought a plugin that was terrible. It was full of bugs and didn’t work at all in Internet Explorer. Envato made a big stink out of not granting me a refund. It was an $18 plugin and there were other people in the comments with similar issues. I the end I filed a PayPal dispute and got my money back.

I make and sell Lightroom presets through my website and Etsy. Most of my customers have been wonderful, but twice now a buyer has requested a refund. One time it was because they thought that LR presets would work in Photoshop! Today though, a customer bought my presets, downloaded them and immediately requested a refund because I “sold him viruses”. This alarmed me, but after scanning all the files with a gazillion different sources it was confirmed that they were 100% clean.

I figured he was lying to get my products free, but I refunded him immediately, good pr is worth more to me that the 20 bucks for the sale. I felt irritated but brushed it off.

Comment by jkohlbach says:

[email protected]@noeltock Like not having to deal with refunds? :D
 I’ll be diving into Code Canyon as a merchant in the coming month I think. Might hit you up for some advice!

Comment by pippinsplugins says:

[email protected]@noeltock It is definitely one of the downsides, but there are lots of ups too ;)

Comment by jkohlbach says:

[email protected] Muldoon You buy more premium products than anyone i know, haha. 
“Therein lies the problem. If someone keeps asking for a refund even though you provided a fix, perhaps all they were looking for was a free product.”
So is that where it’s acceptable to draw the line as a merchant and refuse?

Comment by jkohlbach says:

[email protected]@pippinsplugins I guess thats the downside of selling via Code Canyon? Loss of control?

Comment by jkohlbach says:

[email protected] agree and I’ve offered 30 day money back guarantee from the beginning. You’re right, in the grand scheme it far outweighs having to deal with a few random refunds.
I guess maybe you’ve been more lucky not to have experienced the ol’ dodgy refund trick. It’s only happened a couple times to me. Legit refunds have only been a couple of isolated cases too, so offering the guarantee has been good for business.

Comment by pippinsplugins says:

[email protected], exactly.

Comment by noeltock says:

[email protected]@noeltock Right, but you’re not the merchant, you’re an author/contributor. For Envato, it’s always possible to offer a refund, if they choose to or not, who knows.

Comment by pippinsplugins says:

[email protected] absolutely agree with you, but it’s not always possible. As a Code Canyon author, for example, I cannot offer refunds without taking a significant loss.

Comment by noeltock says:

When I had sold themes,  we gave a 100% money back guarantee within 30 days. It was easier for people to buy knowing this, and I only had to process a single refund (as the developer that bought it actually required something for joomla and not WP). No big deal. If people are too cheap to buy your product (i.e. they’ll buy, get a refund and use it), it’s easier for them to find it on one of the warez sites.
Offer refunds, the gains will always outweigh the few losses (don’t believe me? do multivariate testing on your landing page for it, you’ll see, I did :) ).
Just my 2 cents..

Comment by Kevin Muldoon says:

[email protected] have only asked for refunds a few times. Once for a theme and around 3 times for plugins when the plugin wasn’t working and the developer wouldn’t fix it. I don’t believe that’s too bad though as I buy premium themes and plugins quite frequently.
I do think there are people out there who are just trying to get something for free though. Therein lies the problem. If someone keeps asking for a refund even though you provided a fix, perhaps all they were looking for was a free product.

Comment by jkohlbach says:

[email protected] somewhat agree. What’s annoying is those situations where they won’t even let you take a look to see if it is or not. Then it ain’t so cut and dry.

Comment by jkohlbach says:

I have similar opinions to pippin. As a premium plugin developer myself I’ve had to deal with refunds and it really gets my goat when someone buys your hard work then immediately requested a refund saying they expected it to do XYZ feature (where XYZ feature was clearly not mentioned on the features list and is completely unfeasible and anyone with half a brain can figure that out).
These types of people are just out to try and get your product for free and it’s despicable.
In saying that, I’m probably more lenient than pippin, mostly because I’m not currently selling through a provider and receive all the monies of purchases ex affiliates cut, but possibly because I need to learn where to draw the line and stand my ground.
One of the things I believe is that first and foremost it’s a seller’s duty to provide top notch service and support for the products they are creating. This is something that I always go out of my way to do and above and beyond – anyone who has needed support for any of my products will tell you this because I make sure they leave happy.
Again, as pippin mentioned, we often find ourselves logging into someone’s WordPress backend and find half a dozen problems with none of them the fault of our plugin), and as a developer you just grin and bear it. It’s part of selling a product and standing behind it.
It really pisses me off when I hear stories like yours Kev, about being mistreated when it comes to clear cut problems with products. It comes down to lazy ass developers that aren’t willing to even consider they coded something that in reality sucks dust.
Developers need to stand behind their products and honor the guarantees that they give. In the end, they’re not only harming themselves but also their fellow developers that are trying to sell products legitimately.
Sorry you had to go through that experience! I’m yet to go through anything similar and hope I never do.

Comment by pippinsplugins says:

No, it’s not that simple. You first have to determine if the problem is with your product or a different product that is conflicting with yours. If it IS a problem with your (the developer’s) product, then yes, it is quite simple.

Comment by Marios says:

I believe when you selling digital goods you have 2 choices…Fix the problem, or give refund.
If you buy a WordPress theme for example and there are issues with it,  I will have 24hours to fix the problem or I will give you refund, no questions ask, very simple…

Comment by Kevin Muldoon says:

[email protected] via Envato is obviously different from refunding customers directly. That’s something I hadn’t really thought about if I’m honest. As a customer, I am kind of glad that Envato can override the developer in certain situations. For example, with me the developer was refusing to even acknowledge there was a problem with his plugin and told everyone it was their themes and plugins, despite these problems arising on blogs with nothing else installed. If it was left to the developer, I wouldn’t have got anything back (it wasn’t much money, I just don’t like paying for a product that doesn’t even work).
As a developer though, I can understand how frustrating it could be for a customer to go over your head and get a refund directly, particularly when the issue is with a theme and not your product. I guess the issue of refunds depends greatly on how good the support is. With Magazine3, the support was great for the first week and then they simply stop replying to emails and the theme still had lots of bugs etc. It was the terrible support and complete lack of interest in helping me that made me request a refund. Compare that to Theme Junkie. The owner was replying to my support queries almost instantly and went above and beyond to try and help me implement one of their designs on my site. In the end I didn’t even use any of their designs, but I didn’t ask for a refund as I was so pleased with the service.
For developers, it must be difficult to distinguish between serial complainers and customers who deserve their money back. 

Comment by pippinsplugins says:

I have some mixed opinions on this, but ultimately I do believe there ultimately must be a method for a buyer to get a refund. The questions comes down to who gives out the refund.
As a Code Canyon author, I never personally give refunds for buyers of my plugins, since all refunds are handled by Envato. If I was to give a buyer a refund, I would actually be losing money, since I do not receive 100% of the purchase price.
You have to be very clear and firm with your refund policies as well. There have been several occasions where buyers have asked me for a refund because there is a jQuery conflict with their theme. In these cases, the problem was caused by a poorly coded theme, and not my plugin, but since they purchased mine (and bought it after the theme), they blame me, the developer of the plugin. In these cases I tell the buyer they can seek a refund for the plugin if they want, but really they should be looking for a refund or fix on the theme. As a developer, I have to be very firm in these situations and NOT give the buyer a refund. If I were to refund their purchase (at a loss to me), then I would just be encouraging them to use a broken theme.
More important than a good method for buyers to get refunds, in my opinion, is the presence of top-notch support. In several of the cases I have had where the buyer requested a refund, I ended up fixing the broken theme for them. In the end they were a much happier buyer than they would have been if they’d just got their money back.

Comment by WP Mods says:

Comments are now open on this article. Not sure why they were disabled before :)

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