Retailers rethink returns policies as cost rises

In the face of rising numbers of ‘serial returners’, a fifth of retailers say they have taken measures to make their returns policy more stringent in the last year, with a further 19 per cent planning to do so in the next 12 months.

This is according to Barclaycard, which commissioned Opinium to survey 2,004 UK adults in April, along with 250 senior decision-makers in retailers with an online presence.

Of the businesses that have tightened up their policies, 41 per cent said they did so because too many customers are over-ordering items knowing they will return the majority, while 31 per cent claimed shoppers are using items and then returning them.

Last month, ASOS was one such e-commerce business to make major changes to its returns policy, in an attempt to crack down on serial returners.

Consumers are feeling the impact of retailers becoming stricter in implementing their returns policies, with 14 per cent saying they have been penalised by a retailer for their returns behaviour, from warning emails to account deactivations. Penalties have also been incurred for returning too many items, sending back purchases that have been used, returning goods without the right packaging or missing the returns deadline.

This is especially true of Millennials, who are more than twice as likely to fall foul of the small print.

However, this has not yet deterred consumers, with 29 per cent admitting they order items that they intend to return – a figure that rises to 48 per cent of 25 to 34 year-olds.

Flexible returns policies have become the norm, with half of all consumers saying a retailer’s returns policy influences where they choose to shop, and 18 per cent reporting they will only choose retailers that offer free returns.

Despite this expectation, an increased awareness of sustainability issues is leading some consumers to move towards a more mindful approach to the amount they are buying and returning. Just under half (46 per cent) were concerned about the environmental impact of over-ordering and returning goods, with 11 per cent having actively reduced the amount they order and return because of this.

Last year’s research revealed that UK shoppers are returning £7 billion of purchases every year, leading to a ‘phantom economy’ of lost revenue for retailers.

Anita Liu Harvey, director of strategy at Barclaycard, said: “The volume of goods being returned continues to rise and consumers have come to expect free returns as standard – otherwise they will shop elsewhere.

“These more stringent policies have begun to affect consumers, with some retailers starting to send warning emails to customers about accounts being deactivated, should unusual or suspicious behaviour continue – on the flip side, it does seem shoppers are becoming more mindful about the purchases they make and the impact their returns could have on the environment.”

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