Madewell’s ability to capture the lived-in, yet polished aesthetic popular with 20- and 30-somethings has led to dramatic growth for the brand since its 2006 spinoff from J.Crew.
Yet, even the trendiest of brands need to keep their costs in check. And when it comes to the costs associated with returns processing, Madewell has done a great job at finding a middle ground—one that allows the company to minimize expenses while still creating a VIP experience for top customers.
Consumer return costs typically take two forms: return processing fees and return shipping fees.
According to Narvar’s Return Policy Benchmarks, based on a review of 197 merchants’ return policies, charging a return processing fee is considered to be a ‘Below Standard’ practice. Charging customers for return shipping is ‘Standard’ for retailers, while charging no fees or offering VIP return benefits grants a company ‘Above Standard’ status.
The Madewell Insiders loyalty program clearly lands the company in the ‘Above Standard’ category for its customer-friendly VIP return policy. Members of the program’s three tiers gain access to free returns and free return shipping; all others pay a $7.50 fee per return (for any number of items in a single return).
Madewell’s Insiders program is free to join, and there is no fee or minimum spend requirement associated with the base tier of the program. Beyond VIP returns treatment, members at this level gain access to:
Once minimum spend requirements are met, members become a part of Madewell Star ($500+) or Madewell Icon ($1,000+), where they receive free expedited shipping, triple point days, a dedicated concierge phone line, an annual collectible tote bag with purchase, and a tier celebration gift (Madewell Icon only).
Madewell shoppers have a number of options for both returning items and initiating returns.
Items ordered online, by phone, or in-store can be returned to any of Madewell’s brick-and-mortar locations, with a few exceptions.
Madewell customers can also ship eligible items back to the retailer in lieu of visiting a physical store. Domestic and international shoppers can initiate the return of goods purchased from any channel through the company’s branded returns portal.
After submitting their returns information to the portal, customers whose returns are approved will be able to print a shipping label to mail their returns to Madewell or download a QR code (to be used for printerless returns through USPS).
Madewell does allow customers to ship multiple returns in a single package—provided all necessary return slips are included—but does note that doing so may increase processing time for returns.
Typically, Madewell requires that customers wishing to return or exchange items do so within 30 days of the original purchase, as is ‘Standard’ amongst retailers, according to Narvar’s benchmarks report.
However, with a busy holiday shopping season, Madewell has temporarily extended its return window for items purchased between October 23rd, 2021 and December 10th, 2021 to January 10, 2022.
Madewell has also extended its return policy in the past—recently, in response to early COVID-19 closures. Temporarily extending its return policy may increase sales by assuring customers that they’ll have sufficient time to receive and try on their orders before running up against a return deadline.
Madewell returns handled in-store are processed instantly, though the form of the refund varies depending on the type of purchase and purchase confirmation presented by the customer.
Customers who ship their returns back to Madewell are asked to allow up to two weeks from the date they ship their returns back for their returns to be processed—after that, refunds are typically credited to customers’ accounts within 3-5 business days.
Free shipping for VIP rewards program members is prominently featured on the enrollment form that appears as a pop-up upon loading Madewell’s site.
Besides this pop-up, Madewell’s ‘Returns & Exchanges’ page is linked in the site’s universal footer, but is not referenced on individual product description pages (PDPs). According to our Rubric, this level of visibility is considered ‘Standard’ across all retailers surveyed.
One final consideration when it comes to Madewell’s return policy is its ability to leverage customer returns data.
Libby Waddle, chief executive officer of the J. Crew Group, confirmed to Women’s Wear Daily in August 2021 that more than 60% of all Madewell customers are members of the VIP Insiders program. By incentivizing participation in the program through VIP return policies and other benefits, Madewell not only fosters customer loyalty, but also builds a treasure trove of purchase and return data to further optimize processes and inventory decisions.
By capturing and reviewing these behavioral insights, Madewell can continually fine-tune its purchasing program and marketing collateral to increase sales while minimizing returns—making its VIP program a win-win for both the brand and its best customers.
As a senior content manager at Narvar, Michelle has a finger on the pulse of the ecommerce industry. She's spent close to a decade helping online retailers make sense of their post-purchase processes.