How To Return Something On Etsy (And Can You?)


Buying things online can be tricky, and sometimes you’ll need to return something that you bought. Returns on Etsy aren’t as straightforward as you might think, because Etsy isn’t a single shop, it’s made up of millions of individual sellers.

To return or exchange an item, you’ll need to make sure you’re able to do that, and you’ll need to contact the seller first. Read on for the things that could go into an Etsy return.

How To Return Something On Etsy

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Etsy return policies on desktop in a listing
Return policies on Desktop

How do refunds and returns work on Etsy?

Since Etsy is made up of individual shops, you’ll have to contact the business owner of the shop that you bought from to see if you can return something that you bought. Each seller is going to have different rules about what can and can’t be returned, and they should be included in the listings’ return policy.

To ask about returning something, you’ll need to contact the seller (read about what to do if a seller isn’t responding here.)

If the seller says that you can return the item, they’ll probably have things that they need you to do, like packing it securely, or making sure that it’s sent back within a certain time period.

The seller might also have other guidelines about the return, like saying that the item has to be in new or unused condition without damage.

Etsy sellers might not accept returns at all, so that’s something you would need to check before ordering. That information is in the shop policies section.

Shop policies on the Etsy app
Shop policies on the Etsy app

What are shop policies?

A shop’s policies spell out what the terms of cancellations, returns, and exchanges are for each shop. In the Etsy app, you can find these in the listing itself, under the Shipping and Policies section. You’ll have to open the section by clicking the little V on the right side of the screen. This will show you whether the shop accepts returns or not.

On desktop, you’ll see the policies on returns in the listing by scrolling down to the Shipping and Policies section.

Etsy sellers set their own shop policies, so even though one shop might accept returns, others won’t.

Shop policies are a binding agreement when you purchase from a shop, so make sure that you’re checking before you buy something!

To see the full Artisan Shopping Directory sections, including signups for discounts, click here.

What if I want to exchange something?

Exchanging things falls under the umbrella of returns, because you’d basically be returning something and buying something else. If a shop doesn’t accept returns they might not do exchanges either, so it’s up to the buyer to check on this before buying anything.

Sellers who do accept exchanges will probably have guidelines around what can be exchanged and what condition the item has to be in.

Most of the time, they’ll say that the item needs to be in unused and resellable condition, so if you wear or wash something, it’s generally not going to be accepted for an exchange.

If you receive the package and immediately know that it’s not what you thought, you can contact the seller before opening the inner packaging to see if it can be returned.

But in general, once you open or use something, the seller isn’t going to accept a return or exchange, and you’ll have to work that out with them directly.

custom sign for a new baby
A customized listing on Etsy.

What items usually can’t be returned on Etsy?

Even if the seller does accept returns on some things, it doesn’t mean that everything in their shop can be returned. And Etsy also has its own blanket policies about specific categories of items that can’t be returned for hygiene or other reasons.

Most sellers who do customized items won’t accept returns on them, for obvious reasons. If personalized items are returned we can’t sell them to someone else, so that’s a financial loss.

There are other categories of items that generally aren’t returnable, like digital downloads, edible items, personal items like lingerie, and bath and body items.

A lot of vintage and wedding sellers don’t accept returns either, so you need to check the policies in each shop before you buy from them if having the option of a return is important to you.

Items that you’ve used and damaged yourself usually can’t be returned…There have been plenty of stories I’ve heard of people who ruined something they bought, then asked to return them for a refund.

Those stories are funny because they’re so wild, but if you break something or shrink it in the laundry because you didn’t wash it the right way (hey, we’ve all done it), you shouldn’t expect the seller to take it back.

returns policy on etsy
Returns policy on Etsy.

Can opened items be returned?

As I mentioned, it’s less likely that a seller will accept a return if the item has been used or worn. In some situations, opening the package that holds the product is probably going to make a return unlikely.

I sell cake decorations, and if a customer opens the package I can’t accept a return because I don’t know if it’s been handled, so it becomes a food safety issue.

Anything that’s a food item or has any kind of hygiene or health safety component to it is better off left in the inner packaging if you want to return it.

Some sellers report having things returned to them with packaging that was opened and things that were removed from it, so they couldn’t refund the cost.

I’ve also heard of situations where people tried to return something that wasn’t the thing that was actually purchased by putting it in the original item’s packaging.

Those situations are obviously unusual, but most sellers will be less likely to accept a return on certain things if the original packaging has been opened.

crushed package damaged
A damaged package…

Can Etsy make the seller take things back?

Etsy can’t force sellers to accept returns, since each business on Etsy is run in different ways. Etsy allows sellers to set their own return policies and to enforce their own policies, so unless there’s a problem with the item that was purchased, Etsy won’t step in.

If you receive something that’s damaged, or not as described in the listing, you can contact the seller and ask for a refund for those reasons even if they don’t accept returns in their shop policies.

Remember, though, that the item would have to be legitimately damaged in transit or not as described to apply.

I’ve had people say that they bought something that wasn’t as described, but they basically then said that it was what the listing said, they just wanted a different color.

They filed a not-as-described case about it, but when Etsy looked at the photos and the details, they closed the case because the item was what they ordered.

Filing too many cases on Etsy can mean that they revoke your shopping privileges for abusing the claims system, so try to work it out with the seller first.

If something was damaged in transit, the seller might ask you to send it back if it’s repairable, or they might not, it’s all done on a case-by-case basis since each shop handles things differently.

Etsy case system ineligible situations
Things that aren’t eligible for Etsy’s case system.

What does the Etsy case system cover?

Filing a case on Etsy should be a final-resort situation if the seller isn’t being helpful at all. Escalating things to the case system usually isn’t necessary because most sellers will handle things, within their policies.

Etsy Purchase Protection will cover some things like packages that aren’t received, or aren’t as described, but only within certain parameters. You can read about that here: Etsy Purchase Protection

Some situations aren’t covered by Purchase Protection, including things that are used, worn, or washed (see the first line of the image above.)

You have to contact the seller before opening a case, because Etsy requires it, and most sellers can fix the problem without having to get Etsy involved.

Give the seller time to handle any returns requests before contacting Etsy, because overusing the Etsy case system can end up with Etsy revoking your buying privileges! Read the entire Etsy policy on this here: Cases PolicyOpens in a new tab.


Can I send something back without asking?

If you return something to the seller that you bought without checking with them first, it’s considered to be a “forced return,” and the seller isn’t required to refund it.

They might ship it back to you, but they’re not required to. Technically, if you receive a package in the US mail that you didn’t ask for and it’s addressed to you, you can keep it according to the US postal serviceOpens in a new tab..

If you buy something it’s yours, and if you then send it to someone without telling them, it’s a gift…So make sure that you check first!

How to arrange for a return on Etsy.

To arrange for a return on Etsy, contact the seller using the Etsy messaging system and let them know that you’d like to return the item, and why. You might want to check the return policy before doing that, though, because if it’s something that’s a clear-cut “no returns accepted” situation, you can decide whether it’s worth your time.

If the seller does accept returns you can verify the return address and timeframe with them (most people will require that you send things back within a certain time so that the return doesn’t drag out for too long.)

The easiest way to return something is to use the same packaging that it came in, and make sure that you pack it up the same way that it came.

This is really important because refunds are usually based on the condition the item is in when the seller gets it back.

If you ship something that gets damaged on the way back to the seller, you might not get the refund!

You might also want to pay for insurance for anything that’s fragile or expensive, since any insurance the seller paid for stops when it gets to you.

To see the full Artisan Shopping Directory sections, including signups for discounts, click here.

Who pays for shipping for the return?

The general returns policy on Etsy says that the buyer will need to pay for the return shipping, and the seller might not refund the original cost of shipping, so check on the details before you decide whether it’s worth your time to return something.

If the seller offers to send you a return shipping label, you can print it out and tape it to the box, but they’re not required to do that for you.

Returning things to independent businesses isn’t the same as returning things to a giant corporation…They’re just passing the cost on to you in other ways, anyway!

You can read another article that goes into more detail about this here: Who Pays For Return Shipping on Etsy?

I’ve had people ask to return something that cost $13, and once they pay to ship it back, and also subtract out the original cost of shipping it, they would only be getting $3 back.

You have to look at the whole cost to see if it’s even worth your time. The most important thing, though, is to make sure that you’re ordering the right thing before you order it!

What if you’re located in the EU?

If you’re an EU resident, Etsy sellers have to follow EU laws as far as returns and exchanges go. That means that some of the restrictions that sellers in other countries set up might not apply, and you’ll have to work with them directly to make exceptions if you want to return something.

However, not all sellers fall under EU laws, since not all Etsy sellers are registered as businesses. There are some who are sole proprietors, and they may not have to comply with EU laws.

Plus, EU laws exclude certain categories of items that can’t be returned, like customized, perishable, and digital items, and things that can’t be returned for hygiene reasons.

So basically, just because you’re in the EU, it doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to get refunds on Etsy. There are a bunch of conditions and exceptions, so you’ll still need to contact the seller to clarify.

My last word on this issue is that if you need to ask for a refund, please be nice about it. When we get customers who come in hot and start out by being insulting, it doesn’t make us want to be helpful.

Remember that you’re not dealing with a big, faceless company, you’re dealing with a person who might have made the item that you’re complaining about, and who will probably be more willing to be helpful if you’re nice.


Kara Buntin

Kara Buntin has run a profitable home-based business since 1999, and has a background in art, theater design, and cake decorating. She's a top Etsy seller with over 51,000 sales on Etsy and her own website, and helps other home-based business owners with their business goals and SEO. She founded the Artisan Shopping Directory website to promote the artisans who are members of her EShop Success marketing program.

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