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Retailers rethink returns policies as increase in ‘serial returners’ impacts bottom line

Over a quarter of retailers (26 per cent) have seen an increase in the volume of goods being returned in the last two years, according to new findings. Research from Barclaycard, which sees nearly half of the nation’s credit and debit card transactions, reveals that in the face of rising numbers of ‘serial returners’, a fifth (20 per cent) of retailers say they have taken measures to make their returns policy more stringent in the last year, with a further 19 per cent planning to do so in the next 12 months.

Of these businesses that have tightened up their policies, four in ten (41 per cent) say this is because too many customers are over-ordering items knowing they will return the majority, while three in ten (31 per cent) claim shoppers are using items and then returning them.

Stricter policies are starting to take effect, with 14 per cent of shoppers having been penalised for flouting the small print – yet the number of ‘serial returners’ is on the rise

Consumers are feeling the impact of retailers becoming stricter in implementing their returns policies, with 14 per cent saying they have been penalised by a retailer for their returns behaviour, from warning emails to account deactivations. Penalties have also been incurred 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.

National averageConsumers aged 25-34
Proportion of consumers penalised for returning too many goods8 per cent21 per cent
Proportion of consumers penalised for returning goods that have been used / worn8 per cent21 per cent
Proportion of consumers penalised for returning goods without the right packaging or labels10 per cent22 per cent
Proportion of consumers penalised for returning goods after the deadline11 per cent25 per cent

However, this has not yet deterred consumers, with three in ten shoppers (29 per cent) admitting they order items that they intend to return – a figure that rises to nearly half (48 per cent) of 25-34 year olds.

Free returns are 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 (49 per cent) saying a retailer’s returns policy influences where they choose to shop, and 18 per cent 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 per cent) are concerned about the environmental impact of over-ordering and returning goods, with one in ten (11 per cent) having actively reduced the amount they order and return because of this.

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.”

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