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Shoppers look elsewhere if charged for returns, study finds


New findings from UserTesting, a provider of video-based human insight, has revealed that 60% of UK shoppers would reconsider purchasing from a retailer if it introduced fees to return online orders.

The findings follow the decision by retailers such as Zara and Boohoo to charge a fee to customers who return items online, at a time when inflation is rising and consumers are facing a cost-of-living crisis.

UserTesting found that 70% of women believe companies are charging for returns to “discourage customers from over-ordering or ordering multiple sizes”. Meanwhile, 80% of men thought the policies were to “recoup costs from postage and processing returns”.

The sentiment was reinforced by findings from ReBound, the platform that helps ASOS manage returns. It revealed that nearly three-quarters (74%) of consumers admit to buying multiple sizes with the intention of returning, while two-thirds (64%) purchase multiple colours.

Return fees tied to sustainable practices reduce consumer hesitancy

Despite this, consumers are increasingly conscious about the impact of their returns on the environment. ReBound discovered that 69% of consumers are happy to pay for returns if the money is used to subsidise more environmentally-friendly return options. Less than half (48%) were willing to pay an extra 50p per return, while just 22% said they’d pay more than £1.

Increase in cost-of-living compounds negative sentiment around return fees

This recent wave of return fees comes in the context of a cost-of-living crisis. Inflation in the UK has risen to 10.1%, a 40-year high, driven by soaring food, fuel and housing costs. It is leaving consumers with less disposable income, meaning the average customer is particularly sensitive to additional costs and charges.

Commenting on the findings, Janelle Estes, chief insights officer at UserTesting, said: “With a number of retailers introducing return fees, there’s a need to consider how these changes are being communicated to customers–especially when the public is facing rising inflation. Retailers want to ensure there’s no miscommunication around these practices.”

“We discovered 90% of people are more inclined to purchase with free returns, showing just how risky this policy can be for retailers when their rationale is not clearly explained and in line with their customers’ preferences and values. In this economic climate, it’s important that retailers mitigate the risks of introducing new fees and charges.”

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