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May 15, 2019

Retailers tighten policies to tackle ‘serial returners’

By Hannah Abdulla

Retailers are taking measures to rethink their returns policies to tackle the problem of ‘serial returners’, according to new research from Barclaycard.

Over a quarter of retailers have seen an increase in the volume of returns in the last two years, and one in five have taken measures to make their returns policy more stringent – with a third claiming shoppers are using items before returning them. 19% of retailers are planning to tighten up their returns policies in the next 12 months.

Of the businesses that have tightened up their policies, four in ten say this is because too many customers are over-ordering items knowing they will return the majority, while three in ten claim shoppers are using items and then returning them.

Stricter policies are starting to take effect, with 14% of shoppers having been penalised for flouting the small print. Penalties have included warning emails and account deactivations and 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.

According to the research, 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% reporting they will only choose retailers that offer free returns.

Despite this expectation, 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 are concerned about the environmental impact of over-ordering and returning goods, with one in ten having actively reduced the amount they order and return because of this.

In recent years brands and retailers have taken steps to minimise returns – including offering custom options and addressing poor-fit. According to a study by the EHI Retail Institute, 86% of online returns are due to size and fit issues.

Nike recently launched Nike Fit, a digital shoe measurement tool that recommends the correct size for each type of shoe. And Inditex-owned Zara started offering a customisable denim range, for which exchanges and returns were not permitted. 

Several tools have also hit the market aimed at improving the size and fit predictions in online shopping to reduce the amount of clothing that is unnecessarily returned and recycled.

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