The Free Returns Paradox

RedWhite Apparel advertises on Facebook. You might have discovered us from one of the many advertisements we run on the social network. Currently, we're running a new campaign about how our bibshorts help you ride long distances in comfort. I always welcome comments on all ads RedWhite runs and the latest comments about our returns policy made me think more deeply about the paradox of offering free returns. 

The advertising campaign can be viewed here :

I believe RedWhite Apparel has a balanced returns policy. It was written after years of gathering experience selling long distance bibshorts online, worldwide. In a nutshell, you can return anything purchased from us at any time as long as the item is in "as-new" condition with original hangtags attached. The policy also covers manufacturing defects that crop up during use and pre-mature wear and tear. You can read it here.

This policy is written to cover customers who purchased the wrong size, don't like the product (but kept in in saleable condition), have buyer's remorse (but kept the purchase in "as-new" condition) and those who were unfortunate enough to receive a defective item.

The policy does not offer refunds or returns to customers who purchase our long distance bibshorts, wear it, and then return it because they simply don't like it. Not liking something is subjective and a policy that covers this is non-existant in most policies of cycling clothing brands. Notable premium brands such as Assos and Rapha do not offer this (as of 22nd Jan 2020).

The RedWhite Returns Policy is written the way it is because of the Free Returns Paradox.

The Paradox goes like this :

The Free Returns Paradox is intended to offer customers a guarantee in order to build confidence and increase sales. However, because of natural human behaviour, a no-restrictions return policy often gets abused. As a result of this abuse, the previously very-generous returns policy becomes a massive cost that eats into sales. As a result, the no-restrictions policy becomes less generous. Eventually, it ends up back where it started - a returns policy with reasonable restrictions.

In order for a very-generous returns policy to work, policy abuse has to be negligible. This is definitely the case with a company as small as RedWhite Apparel. Fewer customers means fewer abuse cases. However, as a company grows and starts servicing a wider demographic, policy abuse naturally grows as well. This natural behaviour is evident when a company I personally respect a lot, Recreational Equipment Inc (REI), restricted its lifetime return policy to just 1 year. 

There's actually a Reddit thread about it here. Also covered here.

I do have the stirrings of an idea for a returns policy where customers can have their cake and eat it too. REI resells used returned items at a discount on their member's only Garage Sale. I speculate that this is one way to fund their generous returns policy.

The question remains : Would you buy a used pair of returned bibshorts for 50% of the price from RedWhite Apparel?

Leave you comments below.



This is indeed a very interesting thread. Okay, let’s dig into some of the latest comments. It’s not going to be possible to reply to every comment, but i’ll be doing my best to cover as much ground as possible.

I’ve gone over Ground Effect’s policy and what’s interesting is that they have it on select bibshort models that command a price premium that makes the policy financially viable. I could definitely roll this out, but it would have to be at a similar price premium of US$40-50. I think it narrows the market slightly by making my bibshorts more expensive than they should be. One way forward would be to roll out a premium version of The BIB (same pad obviously, with updated fabrics, more luxe finishing) and then offer a more generous try and return policy which would make financial sense. Will be looking into this.

I see that @GLENN M’s comment covered a possible market for used garments among youth riders and newcomers. However, a used RedWhite will still be relatively pricey and also less hygienic. It would actually make more sense to offer a cheaper model that’s designed for shorter rides of 2-3 hours max. New riders rarely ride further and if they do, they should get on The BIB range.

On managing USA returns, it actually is justified for US customers to expect it. The US is my single largest market, closely followed by Australia and the United Kingdom. I am actually working on a plan right now to make it easier to buy RedWhites and also return them when you’re in the US. It could take a while to roll it out since the logistics is more complicated.

Finally, on ASOS and @PETE OWEN’s comment about his friend buying 3 sizes and returning the 2 that don’t fit, it’s actually not a problem if the items are in “as-new” condition and the return postage is affordable. There’s a ASOS like company in South East Asia called Zalora that does the same thing. Friends of mine do buy multiple sizes to try and then send back the ones that don’t fit. Postage costs less than 4 bucks which the company can easily afford based on per SKU margins. The challenge is managing returns on a global scale. That’s expensive at the moment and companies that do offer it always price their products up to account for the expense.


This is an interesting thread. There seem to be quite a few US centric views around returns and the fact that returns from the US are a pain. Without really wanting to be arrogant, I say welcome to the real world, I think it is a pain both buying and returning stuff to the US for the rest of the world. You guys really are spoiled in the US. Service does actually come at a cost.
Right now that is out of the way I believe wether you would buy used bib shorts or not is about as personal as the fit of them and say as which saddle you prefer. Everyone has a slightly different opinion, I would be perfectly happy to do so at the right price but I wouldn’t want to see a photo of the previous owner!
New Zealand company Ground Effect offers a three month trial of their premium cycling shorts because they are confident of their product but they don’t work for me. I like my red whites!
As Mark says above, thanks for asking our opinions.

Ed January 23, 2020

Your return policy is fair, although a bit of patience is needed when returning items from the US. I think purchasing gently used garments (bibs, shoes, jerseys, etc.) is okay (if properly sanitized and given the RW seal of approval). There’s gently used cycling gear on Ebay and local social media sites all the time. Cycling is a relatively expensive sport to get into/maintain. Offering used items at discounted prices may give opportunities for new-comers, youth programs, athletes with limited means, etc. a shot at some great looking kit!

Glenn M January 23, 2020

Great comments from all and reflect the diversity of opinions that go into this topic! I admit to being “Amazon Primed” with quick delivery and easy returns at no cost, but that’s not really a fair comparison. The policy you have in place seems fair and is one that I’ve utilized. It is a bit time consuming and costly from the States, but even with those costs added in I have an outstanding pair of bibs at a more than reasonable price. Even better is your desire to solicit input from your customers to shape policy…brilliant, and thanks for doing so!

Mark Mitchell January 22, 2020

I think I would buy “returned” shorts at a discounted price, yes. If they were in as-new condition without tags and hadn’t been heavily used, I’m confident your washing machine or mine could thoroughly sterilise them – after all it’s what I expect it to do to my own shorts every time I wash them!

As one of the other commenters has said, tracking serial returns abusers and revoking their return rights seems like a good way to prevent people taking advantage – a friend had this happen with ASOS because she was in the habit of buying three sizes of each item she wanted and returning the two that didn’t fit!

Your shorts are excellent and the quality should ensure that “buyer’s remorse” isn’t too much of an issue!

Pete Owen January 22, 2020

Agree with Dan Lape. Returns from the US are a hassle and expensive. The quality of your products are outstanding and I would buy more if there were a way to exchange products without shipping it back overseas. Hopefully someday you will have a US warehouse.

Dave Nygaard January 22, 2020

I agree with others. I think your return policy is fair and inline with other cycling clothing suppliers. I would not ne interested in wearing someone else’s shorts.

Mike January 22, 2020

Hi Yuva, You’re asking all the right questions and it sounds like you’ve got a great intuition for how to do it right already.

I have the same concerns about hygiene and selling slightly used bibs, but there might be circumstances where it makes sense to take a loss to gain a customer for life. For instance Costco is renown for it’s easy returns (I’ve heard of people returning underwear after a year of use…) but they also keep data on who buys and purchases everything, so they’re able crack down on abusers. I know many people who shop there simply because they know if there is a problem, it will get sorted out. That lax of a policy probably doesn’t make sense since you mainly sell fancy underwear. It sounds like you already make an effort to do right by the customer wherever is reasonable. I’m sure you make reasonable exceptions to your already generous return policy as it is. I’d continue to hear exceptional returns on a case by case and it will show in your reviews (I think already does) ;-)

I am ok to buy slightly used jerseys and base layers not bibs.

Perhaps returns can be sterilized and donated to a good cause?


Marc Deshaies January 22, 2020

I’ll do my best to respond to every comment in this 1 giant one :

I am comfortably buying refurbished products but only in certain categories such as phones (i own a refurbished samsung galaxy S9) and outerwear such as hardshell jackets. I will never buy used activewear that one sweats heavily into, especially bibshorts. It’s just unhygenic. I did use a friend’s second hand cycling shorts when I was starting out, but I was a poor student back then and I also trusted the friend.

On Rapha’s return policy, it’s very similar to ours. They also adopt a flexible approach and evaluate returns on a case by case basis just like RedWhite. I think this is fair because customers do deserve a customised experience and also deserve to be treated with generosity.

Yuva, Co-Founder of RedWhite Apparel January 22, 2020

First, Rapha is trying to cut down on discounts because they are losing too much money or not consistently profitable. Even with being owned by Wal-Mart or whatever now.

Second, I would most likely not buy used clothing items that have been next to someone’s privates. Too close for comfort. Haha

Wai Sing Lee January 22, 2020

I’ve seen the policy REI have adopted several times previously, a company called First Light Optics sells returned Telescopes in a similar way. They allow 30 days use and it works well.
However I have never encountered it with regard to clothing. In fact, many companies expressly exclude the return of clothing such as underwear.
I think, despite what many say in surveys, the reality might be that (even knowing a good wash would be possible) the idea of buying a chamois that’s already been worn wouldn’t be that appealing to one’s conscious mind ; let alone the subconscious…
It’s a no from me and most emphatically my wife

Simon Race January 22, 2020

I think the returns policy, as is, is more than decent/fair. I like the REI policy of recycling returned items via their member’s “garage” sales too. It is a pretty good way of lessening waste/ being a bit more environmentally friendly. I get that some will feel ‘icky’ about buying used bibshorts. But if the use was very light, honestly it is not unhygienic (a good wash solves that), and seems like a great way to go.

Jake Preston January 22, 2020

I believe that Rapha basically has something pretty close to "return them if I don’t like them” policy, but they are bankrolled and owned by billionaire Walmart heirs, so they can perhaps operate at a loss. That being said, I prefer my RedWhite bibs easily over my Rapha bibs — they simply fit better and provide better performance and comfort over long rides.

eric January 22, 2020

If the bibs were used but no visible signs of wear then I’d be happy to buy them at 1/2 price if I needed a set – or maybe even if I didn’t! Your policy sounds fair enough to me.

Max January 22, 2020

Sorry, not gonna buy used bike shorts. Just…no.

Ben Arians January 22, 2020

Returns are a hassle for everyone involved. Customers should like what they see and know their sizes before ordering. However, as you may recall, I ordered a jersey in XXL recently and it was too small, yet looked okay in your size chart (you’ve since upped the sizes). It cost me about $20 Australian to return it, about a third of its cost. I would like to buy another to go with my RW bibs but I am now hesitant about the new sizing not wanting to repeat the same scenario again. Yet, the return process was smooth and the reimbursement quickly forthcoming.

Cheers, Dan Lape

Dan Lape January 22, 2020

You will always have customers who want a “return them if I don’t like them” policy but catering to them will bring unwanted headaches. There’s nothing to not like. Let your customer reviews speak for themselves. No other cycling brand offers a “return if you don’t like them” policy.
Also I would have no interest in buying used/returned bib shorts. And by the way, I’m a very satisfied customer who has multiple pairs of your bibs. v

Victor January 22, 2020

Will I buy somting that has been used or dont have the tiket on it? YES shure they call that refurbish

Christian Boudreau January 22, 2020

@LAWRENCE NG : The bibshorts are evergreen and don’t go out of style. Always happy to accept returns if they are sent back in “as-new” condition. Do they fit well by the way?


I’m glad you have this policy, since I haven’t had a chance to us my new bib shorts since I purchased them over a month ago since its been too cold to ride in shorts at this time.

Lawrence Ng January 22, 2020

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