British shoppers are returning a whopping £5.2 billion worth of goods purchased online each year, according to a report from payment company Openpay. In fact, 12% admit they have made purchases with returns in mind, intentionally buying more than they intend to keep.
The report, Diminishing Returns, highlights the scale at which British shoppers are increasingly abandoning the store dressing room for their own homes, and explores the reasons behind this seismic shift towards a returns culture which threatens the retail industry.
Openpay’s research has found that many consumers place the onus on the retailers themselves, with 28 per cent agreeing that ‘retailers make it too easy to return things’. However, there’s also evidence that suggests social media is fuelling frivolous purchasing and contributing to the returns explosion, particularly amongst younger audiences.
Nearly a third of Gen Zs say they feel pressured to buy things they see endorsed on their social media channels and a sixth of Brits admit to having made impulsive purchases as a result of platforms like Instagram. Compounding the issue even further is the one in 10 (12%) who say they don’t like to recycle outfits due to pressures from social media.
The consequences of this behaviour can hit a retailers’ bottom line and hard. Increased competition among businesses was what lead to liberal and generous returns policies, however surprisingly one in three consumers believe that retailers should impose a small admin fee for returns.
That said, only a quarter (26%) of British consumers say they would buy less if retailers charged them to return items so there’s more to be done.
Perhaps the answer lies in the bigger picture. It’s not just retailers who are paying the price, there is an environmental cost too which consumers are becoming increasingly aware of. Two fifths (43% ) of UK consumers are conscious of the amount of waste created from return products, while two-thirds (65 per cent) believe retailers should minimise packaging on their orders and use electric vehicles to reduce their carbon footprint.
Additionally, nearly half (49% ) think all deliveries should be carbon neutral and a further quarter of consumers say they would even be willing to pay a carbon off-setting fee, on top of any delivery charge.
The issue of returns is a complex one and they are a natural bi-product of retail, however the report makes a number of recommendations for retailers which can help stop misuse of the system.
And while the research was carried out pre-COVOD 19, these remain pertinent as reducing unnecessary deliveries becomes even more pressing – not least with more online shoppers no doubt leading to even more returns.
As a result, the company recommends some steps online retailers can take. For starters, improving sizing tools on websites to prevent consumers having to buy multiple products is a winner in apparel. Reducing the use of pre-paid shipping labels for returns, pushing customers to book a return online where charges could be levied for certain return reason codes, is another.
The report also calls on retailers to come to together to identify ways in which the industry can move towards a holistic commitment to driving down returns. Introduce an industry charter to work towards standard charges for unnecessary returns .
Andy Harding, UK Managing Director at Openpay, explains: “It’s indisputable that consumers have the right to return any item that they purchase online. However, encouraging responsible behaviour towards returns is in the interests of all parties involved; whether that’s through offering sustainable packaging or requiring an initial payment instalment through buy now pay later schemes, like Openpay does, to encourage responsible purchasing.”
He adds: “Our research shows that there is a consumer appetite for a revamp of the returns process, but it’s important that the industry now comes together to work towards driving down returns in a coordinated and committed way. It’s also crucial that the environmental impacts are kept front of mind when considering any new solutions as consumer awareness around this issue continues to grow.”