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A third of UK shoppers say retailers shouldn’t ban serial returners

Tom Bottomley
14 March 2023

A third (32%) of UK shoppers say retailers shouldn’t ban serial returners, as new research from the Retail Technology Show (RTS) has revealed almost a quarter (23%) of consumers believe shoppers who returned the most were often the highest spenders, and most valuable customers.

However, 35% did concede retailers did have a right to ban serial returners due to the cost of returning an item and processing a return, and 24% agreed retailers should ban serial returners if they show “size sampling behaviour”, where they buy the same item in multiple sizes.

While just 6% of UK shoppers said they have been banned by a brand for being a serial returner, that rises to 15% of Gen Z shoppers.

Just over a quarter (26%) of consumers said that rather than banning a serial returner, retailers and brands should “take responsibility” for preventing the return in the first place, while a further 27% said retailers should do more to understand why an item was being returned, rather than simply blaming – and in some cases banning – the shopper.

The original research of over 1,000 UK shoppers also revealed that the average UK shopper now returns 15% of the total number of items they buy online, rising to 20% for Millennials and 22% among Gen Z shoppers.

However, the return rates quoted by the RTS research refer to all items purchased online, with the generally accepted rate of returns in fashion standing at more like 30%, a considerably higher percentage as the thorny issue of returns remains a key challenge for retail businesses.

Financial professional services network KPMG now estimates returns represent a £7billion problem for retailers, an issue that is only going to escalate further as inflation increases the cost associated with reserves logistics, and the processing and labour needed to remerchandise a returned product ready for resale.

The latest data from the British Fashion Council (BFC) shows that it isn’t just impacting retailers’ profits, but it’s also having an increasing impact on the planet, with an estimated 23 million returned items destroyed or sent to landfill each year in the UK, generating 750,000 tonnes of CO₂ emissions.

That has led to many retailers, including Zara, NEXT and Boohoo, to start charging shoppers to send items back, prompting a consumer backlash from shoppers who have become used to free returns.

The latest research from market research platform Appinio has even revealed that 71% of shoppers won’t now shop with a brand and retailer who don’t offer free returns. And another poll, this time from buy now, pay later provider Klarna, has showed that getting rid of free returns risked lost loyalty, with 86% of consumers more likely to return to online merchants who offer free returns.

Some brands, including ASOS and Boohoo, have gone further in waging their war on returns and reportedly started sending warning letters to customers deemed to be ‘serial returners’, reserving the right to suspend shoppers’ accounts.

Matt Bradley, Event Director for the Retail Technology Show, commented: “Despite much debate on the best way to tackle the issue, it’s clear that retailers still haven’t squared the circle when it comes to returns.

“Retailers are looking at ways to address the spiralling operational costs associated with returns on the one hand – and where the responsibility for paying for that lies. Yet, on the other, they are also having to weigh up the cost of potential lost conversions, Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) and loyalty from shoppers who have been conditioned to expect returns to be free.”

The Retail Technology Show, described as “retail’s golden ticket event”, is taking place on 26 and 27 April 2023 at London Olympia.

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