A new study has found that as many as two thirds of all online shoppers send back at least one item of clothing for every order they make. It’s been suggested that that convenience of e-commerce, paired with what is often a free returns service, has fostered a culture of serial returners whereby shoppers are buying a whole range of items only to send back all but one or two.
The research, carried out by Savvy Marketing for BBC Radio 4, surveyed more than 1,000 shoppers on their online habits over the past six months. It found that a huge 63% returned items of women’s clothing while 56% of all respondents admitted to sending back one or more items (be that women’s clothing or otherwise).
In terms of just who are the biggest offenders, it’s potentially millennials (that is, those born post-2000) who make up the greatest proportion of serial returners. The study found that Generation Zers are twice as likely as their parents to indulge in online shopping and thus it follows that they must make up some percentage of the figure returning items.
Catherine Shuttleworth, CEO of Savvy Marketing, suggests that it’s in the rise of the smartphone where retailers ought to place blame. And, of course, the technological revolution has made shopping both easier and more immediate – allowing consumers to make purchases and take deliveries from the comfort of their armchair. Indeed, she stresses that that flexibility and convenience is crucial to today’s generation of shoppers.
But what does meeting the needs of consumers mean for retailers?
Primarily, serial returners are hitting the pockets of even the largest retailers hard. Delivery costs money. And making two trips out – instead of just one – to accommodate returns inevitably has a cost impact for firms – particularly if they have a free returns and full refund policy as so many do. Tony Mannix, CEO of Clipper Logistics said his company had handled enough returned products to fill forty premier league football stadiums. In transportation terms, that’s quite the image. What’s more, he admitted that not all returned items are re-stocked and re-sold with around 5% of all products being “binned”.
Increasingly, where retailers are making up the costs of such a returns culture is by increasing the price of the products themselves; research by Barclaycard suggests as many as a fifth of all retailers have upped prices in line with growing propensity for returns. Customers’ opting to exercise their rights are then the ones losing out, suffering major price hikes or, at worst, a loss of online shopping services entirely.
Just how retailers will find a balance between meeting expectations and managing costs remains to be seen although one can be sure firms will be loathe to do away with the online platform entirely considering just how valuable it has turned out to be over the past 10 years.