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Retailers rethink returns as serial returners soar

Lauretta Roberts
15 May 2019

More than a quarter (26%) of retailers say they have seen serial returns increase over the past two years, with 20% saying they have tightened up their returns policies as a result with a further 19% saying they planned to do so.

According to new research from Barclaycard, of those businesses who had already tightened up their policies some 41% said this was because customers were over-ordering items knowing they will return the majority while 31% said it was because customers were returning items after using them.

The tightened-up policies are starting to come into effect with 14% of customers having been subjected to penalties for flouting the small print, yet the number doing so continues to rise with 25-35-year-olds the worst offenders.


Millennials are more than twice as likely to return items than the average shopper, the research shows. They are also undeterred by tougher return policies. Three in ten shoppers  overall (29%) admit they order items that they intend to return – a figure that rises to nearly half (48%) of 25-34 year olds.

Furthermore shoppers expect retailers to offer a flexible returns policy with almost half (49%) of consumers saying they are influenced in their chose of retailer by its returns policy. 18% will only shop with retailers who offer free returns.

However sustainability concerns could contribute to consumers curtailing their returns in the future with 46% saying they are concerned about the environmental impact of repeatedly ordering and returning items with 11% saying they had actively reduced their returns as a result.

Anita Liu Harvey, Director of Strategy, 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. As a result, we are seeing retailers implementing stricter returns policies to try to clamp down on serial returners and reduce the impact that returns are having on their business.

"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."

Online fashion giant ASOS recently hit the headlines when it issued an email to all customers warning that it might suspend the accounts of serial returners. The threat, however, came with a lengthening of its returns window from 30 days to 45 days. Retailers like ASOS have been victims of shoppers "wardrobing", which is buying clothes to wear purely for social media opportunities before returning them.

Their action prompted a mixed response from consumers with some understanding the move and others saying that "over-ordering" was no different to taking a large amount of clothes into a physical retailer's changing room and then deciding to keep only a few items or none.

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