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Signficant minority of shoppers abandoning retailers for ‘unfair’ returns charges, study suggests

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More than a quarter (26%) of shoppers have stopped buying from a retailer because they charged them to return an item they bought online – while almost half (49%) have abandoned retailers for cost reasons, a new study suggests.

Return charges are “unfair”, according to 18% of 2,000 UK adults questioned in research for omichannel customer engagement platform Emarsys, and 13% say they have thrown away an unwanted item rather than returning it. Some 24% say they want to see retailers prioritise changes to returns policies.

Emarsys says that retailers are rethinking their approach in response. It questioned 256 UK-based senior managers and retailers and found 27% now prioritising investment in delivery processes, and 33% focusing on sustainable packaging.

“From discovery, to purchase, to shipping, to receipt both in-store and online, brands risk diminished reputations placing hurdles in front of their customers”, says Megan Hostetler, global senior product marketing manager at SAP Emarsys. “It’s not enough to have the right product at the right price; complete transparency every step of the way, and solutions that reflect customer preference when problems do arise, are a must.

“Returns are a powerful opportunity for brands to build loyalty, both in terms of collecting data and gaining trust. Retail brands that get it right build higher customer lifetime value, receive fewer returns, and elevate that all-important customer experience; ultimately delivering on the promises made to customers is what drives true customer loyalty.”

The study, commissioned by Emarsys ahead of this year’s Shoptalk conference in Las Vegas, comes soon after recent data that suggested retail returns had hit record levels in 2022, even though online sales were lower. Returns rates reached 10% in a cost of living crisis according to ReBound, with December 2022 the busiest ever month for returns after strikes meant significant numbers of Christmas presents were not delivered in time.

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