WordPress Businesses Should No Longer Fear Refunds

How many times have you bought a theme that would look perfect for your next project only to discover it’s not the right fit? I have gone through this experience multiple times but the companies I dealt with didn’t have refund policies. Instead, I had to learn a $60-70 lesson with no recourse. Unfortunately, the only way to know if a commercial theme or plugin will work for a specific use case is to buy it.

Refund Featured Image
photo credit: tantekcc

Steven Gliebe creator of Churchthemes.com has published an excellent post that asks WordPress plugin and theme companies to offer refunds. As a customer, Steve describes exactly how I’d want to be treated by a company issuing a refund. Despite themes and plugins being digital products, Steve argues that companies should still offer them.

My view is that since themes and plugins are non-tangible, they are actually easier to refund. There is no dealing with damage, missing parts, repackaging, etc. All the seller needs to do is give the customer their money back and cease to provide support/updates. We offer a 45 day refund period at churchthemes.com because it really is useful to try a theme to see if it is the right solution.

Within the comments of his post, Bill Robbins makes an excellent point explaining why some WordPress theme companies still don’t offer refunds.

I believe the common “no refunds” policy came into being because so many people were already robbing theme and plugin companies through chargebacks in the early days of commercial WordPress products. Since people were already willing to lie and issue a chargeback which left the user with the theme and the company with an extra fee for their work, many shops felt that making this process easier would be a bad decision. That had a lot to do with this being a standard that was frequently adopted.

On the topic of chargebacks and fear of losing money, I asked three of the largest commercial theme companies to give me their percentage of refunds within the past 3-6 months and how many chargebacks they’ve processed. One of these companies doesn’t offer refunds but after reading Steve’s article, they plan on revisiting their policy in the near future.


From July-December 2013, StudioPress issued:

  • chargeback 0.07%
  • complete 95.73%
  • comp 1.50%
  • refund 2.70%

However, within the past six months, StudioPress has seen very few chargebacks thanks in large part to their tightened security measures they put in place last Summer. Prior to those security measures, the company still saw less than 1% of their total sales dedicated to chargebacks. StudioPress has a team that watches transactions every day and if they notice a fraudulent charge, they usually catch it in time before the cardholder does, preventing the chargeback from occurring.

Jessica Commins, Executive Vice President of Operations of Copyblogger Media, told me sales continue to go up while the refund rate has decreased. This means customers are satisfied with their purchases.

We firmly believe that offering everyone a 30-day guarantee is the best policy, because we are committed to our customers’ happiness. We’ve seen firsthand that happy customers lead to more happy customers, and while that’s not why we do what we do, it’s proof that doing the right thing for the right reasons can lead to sustainable rewards.


The data I obtained from WooThemes is not strictly tied to their themes but the company as a whole. Mark Forrester co-founder of WooThemes says the average refund rate across the board is about 4.8%. Forrester also told me:

Based on conversations the company has had with customers requiring refunds, it’s always a very positive interaction and more often than not the customer has assured us they will be back again because of the great customer service they experienced.

Considering how many products WooThemes has and how long they’ve been in business, I think 4.8% is a low number. It’s definitely in line with StudioPress and Churchthemes.


iThemes is one of the earliest WordPress commercial theme businesses. I was surprised to find out they don’t offer refunds.

Because of the nature of our themes and plugins—which are digitally delivered and non-tangible goods—we cannot offer refunds or chargebacks for purchases. Please read our FAQs and Terms of Service carefully before purchasing your theme or plugin. And as always, you can email questions or contact us in advance.

When I asked Cory Miller why the company doesn’t offer refunds, he told me:

Probably like a lot of people, in the early days we were worried more about people simply buying then asking for a refund and the cost and hassle associated with that. I’ve found though after all the years of being a GPL software company that most people want to pay you for your hard work and support. They want to give you money in exchange for the value you offer and aren’t trying to work around the system. The ones who seek to work around the system have never been our customers.

I should note though that although not formal, if a product doesn’t work for a customer though, we do and have offered refunds on a case by case basis.

Having said that, we would be open to revising our refund policy for this and a number of other reasons and will likely be working through that in the next iteration of what we do.

The reasons Bill Robbins laid out in his comment are some of the same reasons why iThemes never offered a refund policy. As Steve mentioned in his post, “if you don’t have a strong refund policy and your competitor does, you’re at a disadvantage.

Refunds Make Cents

If you’re selling goods whether they are tangible or non-tangible, refunds or money back guarantees give consumers confidence. Without them, there is more risk associated with a purchase. If you plan to offer refunds, Steven Gliebe has a great five step process. I would be thrilled if I were treated in this manner when requesting my money back.

  1. Be as courteous as if it was a pre-sales inquiry
  2. Don’t try to change their mind and don’t ask pesky questions
  3. Initiate their refund immediately and tell them when to expect the funds
  4. Thank them for giving you a try and apologize if there was any inconvenience
  5. Ask them if they have any questions

Considering how many readers of WPTavern purchase products from commercial WordPress theme and plugin businesses, what has your experience been like getting refunds from those companies? From a customer’s perspective, if there was one piece of advice you could give these companies, what would be?


20 responses to “WordPress Businesses Should No Longer Fear Refunds”

  1. I think most theme/plugin authors will give refunds if there is a legitimate reason, despite what the policy states. We are all reasonable people, we aren’t trying to be jerks, but some customers try to take advantage of that. A no refund policy is more to weed out the bad customers than to deny refunds across the board.

    • Yeah, but by displaying a no refund policy, you could be giving up potential customers to a company that clearly states a customer friendly refund policy. What I get out of the data in this post is that the WordPress customer base has matured along with the companies. Customers are for the most part satisfied with the products they are buying. The initial fear of everyone running off with your GPL licensed code after getting a refund has not materialized. Sure, it probably happens but not nearly to the extent that business owners fear 3-5 years ago.

  2. For my comment below, I am going to type theme but I mean plugins as well.

    What’s to stop me from geting a theme, claiming it doesn’t fit/don’t like it/etc… then requesting a refund, getting refund then 3 hours later using that theme?

    Technically speaking nothing.

    I think most people get refunds because they THINK the theme does not fit.
    I know, that you as the theme author can have a demo of the theme, still not the same, since I have different plugins as your demo.

    Refunding on a theme is like the author of this post getting underwear and then going back to store to get a refund.

    Underwears, thongs, bras, speedos, bikinis and so forth can’t be returned for health issues.

    • Nothing stops you from doing that. That was the fear in the early days of companies offering GPL licensed products. People would pay for them, get their money back then redistribute or use the product anyways. It turns out that fear has not been realized. There are far more good customers that outweigh the bad. I think themes get the most refund requests because no matter how good a theme demo is, the only way to know for sure is to obtain the product and use it for a few days.

  3. How many times have you bought a theme that would look perfect for your next project only to discover it’s not the right fit?

    This is an issue of poor documentation, poor demo content, and/or possibly poor content planning on the part of the purchaser. In principle I could see how either policy (refund or no refund) would make sense, but I tend to lean the way of ensuring that refunds are mitigated by removing the reasons they occur in the first place. “Wasn’t a good fit” isn’t a terribly strong refund reason if everything around the product makes it very clear where it shines and where it doesn’t.

    • You make some valid points. I can only speak from my experience but when shopping around for themes, I’d see the window display and think to myself ‘wow, that might look great as my new blog design’. I buy the theme, then realize I need to set this up, set that up, and generally the whole theme is a pain in the ass. Now I’m out $60.00 with nothing to show for it. Or, I’ll try and fit my website into the new theme to make it look good and it just doesn’t look as good as it did in my head.

      As I mentioned in another comment, you can do whatever you think necessary to give me all the knowledge I need to make an informed decision but the only way I’ll know for sure is if I use the theme in the project to see how it goes. The only way to do that is to buy the product and hope for the best.

      • I agree with Jeff and would like to add that some shops overestimate how well their products are portrayed in terms of educating prospects what a product will be able to do or not do. In some cases it’s really hard to know if something will work until you have it running. This is especially true for particularly involved solutions with a longer setup time (shopping cart, membership software), if a customer wants a refund they most likely have already stuck a lot of time into trying to make it work.

        The thing with offering no refunds is that it forces the product author into an adversarial role with its buyers. They only exist to prevent abuse and uncompensated support time. But denying (reasonable) refunds creates a negative reputation not just for the product, but for the marketplace as a whole. I think it’s not consumer friendly and hurts the bottom line down the road. How many people have stopped buying at themeforest because in the past they’ve had bad experiences for which they could not get refunds?

  4. I just thought of something…

    What about offering a “Lite” version of the theme and then a PRO version.

    zeebizcard is an example. I just downloaded it (I had it before), When you go to Theme Options — there is a Check out ZeeBizCardPro and the box next to it says Join the Theme Club.

    What do you think of this Lite/PRO option? Here is what you find in the Check out ZBCP box:

    “The PRO Version provide additional custom widgets and an author box.”

    + Recent Posts Widget (with thumbnails)
    + Tabbed Widget (can show 8 different content types)
    + Recent Comments Widget
    + Popular Posts Widget (with thumbnails)

    Do any of you remember in the 1990s the SHAREWARE 3.5 floppy disks thing?
    I would get Duke Nukem 1 for free (cost of 3.5 floppy disk) then DN 2/3 would be paid.

    • One thing I’ve done in the past is to find a place where I could obtain the theme I was interested in for free. It’s not hard to find if you know where to look. If the theme works out to my specifications, then I’ll pay the theme company so I can get support. I’ve done this twice in the past. But, not everyone is like me.

  5. I learned this the hard way as well. The actual events was the theme chosen would have worked fine — except I didn’t know enough about WordPress at the beginning to deal with that theme.

    I have ended up at Elegant Themes where I am one happy customer. I can “try out” every theme they have if I wanted to. Switch any time to another one. And get new themes added to the decision.. Plus good support.

    People new to WordPress don’t always KNOW what they need and what they don’t. I had years of HTML/CSS experience and a little bit of Joomla. There’s a learning curve to everything. Whether we like it or not. :-)

  6. The most surprising thing for me in switching to a 30 day refund policy was several of the people who asked for refunds either made another purchase later on, or referred someone else to me for a sale. I hadn’t expected that. It’s not the norm, but I can think of at least five instances in the last several months where that happened. No company likes giving refunds, but if you treat customers well, even when something’s not right for them, you may be able to earn their business for the next time around.

  7. It’s really great to see these three big shops share information about refunds.

    I believe if you make something good and make people happy, you will make money.

    A refund policy is about giving customers confidence. Customers who have confidence that you will take care of them are more likely to buy. If you have a good product, refunds should not be a significant concern. Sure, there may be bad guys out there, but there are way more real customers. Focus on them because that’s where the money is.

  8. We offer refunds on WordPress.com for our premium theme upgrades (we can make it easy there so we did) so I know there are people out there wanting or needing them for premium themes. Also knowing that it can be harder, relatively, to get refunds from most theme shops because of the nature of digital goods with the incredible number of people who are buying premium themes I imagine there are a lot of unhappy people out there stuck with themes that aren’t right for them. I’m not sure that refunds are the answer though. I’ve never wanted a refund for software I’ve bought. I buy it, it does it’s thing. Maybe I don’t need that thing in the end. It’s not the fault of the software. I don’t have to struggle setting it up or wonder why my view of the app doesn’t look like the screenshot. By which I mean to say I think the answer is better premium themes.

    • Also, it’s worth noting that WordPress.com is a fully hosted platform so the philosophy and logistics behind refunds on it are different than, say, refunds given for digital goods purchased for self-hosted websites. Users who purchase premium themes on WordPress.com are, for the most part, purchasing usage, not the distributed files, so tackling refunds there is different. For both .com and .org, though, I think Ian’s hit the nail on the head. Make better products.

  9. Might I add, the sales conversions directly resulting from the “30 day money back guarantee” banner (displayed at the bottom of most our site pages) is a difficult metric to track.

    We’ve linked the banner to a page informing users of the policy and we track the “Viewed refund > Checked out” event in Kissmetrics. In the last 30 days that was around 10% of the visitors.

    That said, most people simply view the banner on the product listing, and I’m quite certain that gives them assurance and confidence to complete the order. We definitely have seen an increase in sales since introducing the refund policy, but others vairables have also been at play.

  10. Well written Jeff. I am into the digital business for more than 17 years and I totally agree. Offering an easy refund policy helps building a strong customer relation. But let’s face the truth. The majority of theme and plugin developers are very small teams or even one man shows. They don’t have the manpower for marketing. Therefor they sell their products on the big market places and are bound to the operative policy. Have you ever tried to get a refund from the big E? It took me 4 weeks because a theme was full of bugs although E claims to test each new theme and plugin. What the market needs are new channels and places to help developers selling their work. Better terms, higher commission for the developers, recurring charges for upgrade protection and 30 days “Money-Back-No-Question-Asked” policy. And this is not as difficult as it may sound. Remember, there are countries with a 14 days statutory right of withdrawal for every purchase made online (e.g. Germany). Introducing serial numbers to register themes and plugins (for update purpose and to get support) makes it easy to separate the chaff from the wheat. To stand out of the crowd you have to transform customer satisfaction into customer enthusiasm.

  11. Of course there are pros and cons to a refund policy.

    I have seen customers buying a theme, getting personal support via email and Skype, about 10 threads in the Support Forum, something that resulted in a quite unique and heavily customized theme.
    After exactly 29 days, I got the refund request, with absolutely no reason given (and the theme was still active on that client’s website).
    Exactly moments like this make you really grind your teeth.

    But, there is also a different side of things, the “novice customer”, someone who has zero knowledge of WordPress.

    You show them a theme, they like it, it would perfectly fit and they happily buy it.
    Then, when it gets down to installing it and adding content, they suddenly realize that adding content and photos actually requires some time and learning.
    So instead of investing time into making it work, they take the easy way out and ask for a refund, even though the product is not to blame, as this would happen with whatever theme they decide to choose.
    That’s one of the sources of the abandonment rate of WordPress (or any other system/software).

    So by having a refund policy, many times we are (inadvertently) encouraging customers to take the easy way out, to drop this whole “need a new website” nonsense, and continue using whatever else they have on their websites.

  12. Having a refund policy in place is good business and helps the buyer to know that if something goes wrong, they are looked after well. I generally will find out what the problem is first, then offer possible solutions to the customer, but sometimes you still need to issue a refund. It’s one of those things where you put yourself into their position as a buyer and imagine what and how you would feel if something doesn’t go right, you lose money to someone who you don’t know personally. Like the saying goes “Treat others as you want to be treated”.

  13. I have a 100% no refund policy on my plugin. Still getting around 1% of attempts to get a refund through Paypal claims but none ever made it.

    Why would I refund a product costing 30 USD? Does Microsoft offer a refund for Windows 8? Does Chevrolet offer a refund for cars? Certainly not, and they are costing way more that my plugin!

    It is the duty of the guy buying a S/W to take the time to read the docs, check the demo/free release if any and inquire about the plugin. You can’t on one end look for cheap S/W and on the other end expect them to make the coffee without checking if they are really making it upfront…

    When I see people coming to me asking for refund, I ask them : why would I refund you? Because you haven’t made your job properly? My plugin works as designed and I am not advertising any feature that isn’t included and working. So if it isn’t what you had expected, really sorry, this is a lesson learnt for you, next time, you will take more time to read the docs!

    And with regards to S/W being stealth, yes it happens. My plugin was replicated on a network of warez websites that delivers bunch of WordPress themes and plugins. It took me 8 months to have the S/W finally removed. Everytime I was managing to have the website closed, the guy was reopening it 2 days after somewhere else. Then, I finally convinced the registrar to lock the domain and the guy had to remove my S/W to be able to continue his poor business.

    Not offering refund has the advantage that less people will buy the S/W by mistake and thus you’ll get less questions afterwards on how to do something that the plugin doesn’t perform.

    I am not Studiopress or anything big like that. But still, my S/W was told more than 1.000 times and I never processed a single refund request for the last 5 years. Some said they would sue me. I am still waiting for their attorney to come to me :)


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