'Free' returns now the norm

Retailers get tough as consumers return more goods

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Parcel post: as more people order online, returns as rising


Retailers are toughening their returns policy in light of figures revealing a sharp increase in goods being sent back and some buyers deliberately ordering items they do not intend to keep.

Research from Barclaycard reveals that over the last two years one in four retailers has seen an increase in the volume of goods being returned, a trend which is adversely affecting their trading figures.

One in five has taken measures to make their returns policy more stringent, with a similar proportion planning to do so in the next 12 months.

Of these businesses, 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 – yet the number of ‘serial returners’ is on the rise.

Some consumers are being sent warning emails while penalties have been imposed 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 three in ten shoppers admitting they order items that they intend to return – a figure that rises to nearly half (48%) of 25-34 year olds.

Retailers are now having to cope with the growing view that free returns have become the ‘new normal’, with a fifth of shoppers saying they will only shop at retailers that offer them.

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 almost one in five (18%) 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%) 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.

Walmart may float Asda

US retail giant Walmart is “seriously considering” a stock market flotation for supermarket chain Asda after the £12 billion proposed merger with Sainsbury’s collapsed last month.

The Competition and Markets Authority blocked the £15 billion tie-up, saying it would lead to increased prices.

Walmart international chief executive Judith McKenna told staff at an event for 1,200 managers in Leeds yesterday: “We are seriously considering a path to an IPO – a public listing – to strengthen your long-term success.”

Analysts believe an IPO woud value the business at more than £7bn. Asda is expected to reveal a further quarter of sales growth on Thursday.


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