Close this search box.

Peak returns challenges


Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get different estimates and predications about the volume of returns made in the first week of January. One area where there is consensus though is that returns are becoming an increasingly important issue for the industry.
Last year it was labelled National Returns Day, this year the name Mail Back Monday has also been deployed … it being that day during the first week in January that sees the greatest returns volume.

According to ParcelHero, “In the period after Christmas returns jump by 81% compared to their normal levels,” with “65% of consumers are expecting to return items bought online this year, compared to 51% just three years ago.”

Royal Mail predicted that on Monday 4 January, online returns would “jump by more than 50% in a single day, versus the average number of return parcels per day in December.” The returns specialist, Clear Returns, estimated that to be almost 1m items returned on Monday of this week alone.

“We’ve seen unprecedented levels of online shopping over the Christmas period , with internet spend dominating how consumers made their gift purchases for many retailers. However, with online shopping in particular, consumers buy first and choose later,” said Vicky Brock, CEO of Clear Returns.

“While on the surface the online tills have been perceived to be ringing over Christmas, what retailers must remember is a ‘sale’ is only a sale when a customer decides to keep an item. If the customers’ expectations do not meet the product once it is delivered, they will send it back. And this is exacerbated by online shopping, as consumers rely on images and product descriptions, without being able to physically touch and feel the product or try it on, in the case of fashion buys.”

David Jinks, head of customer research at ParcelHero, thinks statutory returns periods, recently introduced by the Consumer Rights Act, are partly responsible. “In the past we might have just stuck a rubbish present in a cupboard under the stairs, or try to flog it on eBay, but with more gifts being bought online every year, people are taking advantage of the cooling off period and how easy it is to send stuff back.”

Since Christmas, Royal Mail says it has already handled increased numbers of online returns. The number of parcels returned using the Royal Mail Tracked Returns service increased 41% in the week after Christmas, compared to average number of daily return parcels in December. The greatest number of Tracked Returns parcels have been processed in Royal Mail’s London Houslow, Northampton and Gatwick mail centres.

Nick Landon, Managing Director Royal Mail Parcels, said: “We expect the volume of return parcels to jump by more than 50% on this single day (Mail Back Monday). More and more shoppers are using the post to return their unwanted online purchases. At this time of year the easiest way for many shoppers to return their items is to pop them in the mail rather than tackle the post-Christmas queues.”

Clear Returns’ Vicky Brock cautioned that returns from the Christmas period will continue to be a pain point for retailers well into January. “Our data shows that up to 10% of all refunds for the year will hit UK retailers between Boxing Day and late January in some categories.

“With most retailers now offering free returns, this means further loss of margins – not only do they pay for the item to be sent back, but once it the refunded product is processed, it re-enters the store during the January sales at a marked down price, causing even more profit to be lost.”

The issue of returns is a theme we will also be exploring in the next print edition of eDelivery Magazine, EDM05. If you have opinions on what retailers and carriers alike should do to manage returns more effectively, please get in touch or leave a comment below.

Read More

Register for Newsletter

Group 4 Copy 3Created with Sketch.

Receive 3 newsletters per week

Group 3Created with Sketch.

Gain access to all Top500 research

Group 4Created with Sketch.

Personalise your experience on