UK retailers face increased pressure from ‘serial returners’

Online shoppers who take advantage of free returns by over-ordering items are putting increased pressure on e-commerce retailers, according to a new study.

This can affect dedicated e-commerce businesses as well as ‘bricks and mortar’ retailers who also offer online purchase options.

The research from Barclaycard found that the boom in e-commerce has given rise to a new trend in ‘serial returning’. It found that almost a third (30%) of online shoppers deliberately over-order, with the intention of returning unwanted items.

Almost a fifth (19%) of people questioned said they order multiple versions of the same item in order to decide which, if any, they want to keep.

The Consumer Contracts Regulations, which replaced the Distance Selling Regulations in 2014, ensure consumers who order goods at a distance, such as online or over the phone, have the right to return them. There are some exceptions, such as underwear and perishable goods, which cannot be returned if you change your mind but can if there is some other issue such as the product not matching the description.

The right to cancel an order extends to at least seven days after receipt of the goods, although many retailers offer returns beyond this point. The seller must cover the cost of the outbound postage and their terms and conditions should clearly state who is responsible for the costs of returns.

Many retailers in the extremely competitive online market offer free returns – the study suggests 31% of firms offer such an option. 58% of consumers admitted a returns policy would impact their decision to make an online purchase and 47% added they would not order online if they knew a return would cost them money.

31% of retailers said the increasing rate of returns was having an impact on their profits while 52% said it negatively impacted the day-to-day running of the business. Around a fifth had raised prices to help mitigate the effects while some could even face insolvency in a highly competitive market where the margins can be tight.

By Phil Smith

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