Returns mania: the modern retail nightmare

category: Trends

sectors: Retail

It’s no secret that this generation is accustomed to instant gratification. With this comes some serious drawbacks to the retail industry. Additions like free returns and prompt refunds certainly keep shoppers happy but have sparked a new trend: recurring returns.

The introduction of ‘try before you buy’ policies that many online retailers are offering is also contributing to this in-vogue behaviour. In fact, according to Barclaycard, 31% of Brits say they are more likely to return items they purchase online using ‘try before you buy’ “because they don’t have to pay for the item beforehand.” Now, it’s common for customers to order 10 items with the intention of returning all but one.

Fast-fashion frenzy

This trend follows in the footsteps of fast-fashion – whereby retailers copy looks from the catwalk and use extremely efficient methods to get them to store quickly. Retailers release lots of new products daily, and consumers have become accustomed to rapid purchasing patterns and the disposability of garments, all to keep up with what’s fresh.

Snap and send back

Social media is also playing a part in the heightened number of returns – branded by Barclaycard as the ‘snap and send back’ tactic. According to Barclaycard, 9% of UK shoppers admit to buying clothing just to wear for a social media post – only to return it to the store once they get the perfect shot. Social media fuels this returns culture because of the ‘influencer trend’. People buy these items for their #ootd (outfit of the day) posts, and then promptly return the outfits at no permanent cost.

Clear costs

Returns have damaging effects on the environment; in the US returned goods amount to five billion pounds of landfill waste each year. Increased quantities of packaging are needed and the number of CO2 emissions from transport is heightened. Despite being a cost-effective way for consumers to shop, the environmental cost is undeniable, as is the cost to retailers. Specialist consultancy Clear Returns reckons it costs UK retailers up to £20 billion a year.

Amazon’s black list

Various attempts are being made to tackle this returns mania. E-commerce behemoth Amazon has begun removing and blocking customers for taking advantage of the returns policy. Disgruntled shoppers reacted in horror, as they were exiled for a less than 10% returns rate. An Amazon spokesperson told the Mail Online, “We want everyone to be able to use Amazon, but there are rare occasions where someone abuses our service over an extended period of time.” According to Business Insider UK, Amazon isn’t the only one to test the black-list method, now brands such as Victoria’s Secret and Sephora have jumped on the bandwagon.

Image courtesy of @ailsarenk

Sizing support

Other retailers have been taking a subtler approach, altering their online journey to better help customers order the right size. Zara teamed up with Fit Analytics – a size recommendation engine – which prompts shoppers to enter details such as height, weight and body shape and the sizing tool suggests a size for them. It also tells you how many other customers have bought that size and been happy with the fit. This means informed size decisions can be made with more accuracy, resulting in a lowered return rate. Happy customer, happy retailer.