The great clothing returns crisis

As online shopping continues to surge, so does the people in need of returns, however it’s now got to the point that it causes major issues, and inevitably, cost. Unfortunately, this is the case on the high street, too.

Returns cost approximately £60bn a year, with a third of this dedicated to online returns. Whilst many rejected items are honest issues of sizing, duplicates or fault, there’s been a rise in dishonest returns, with people known as ‘serial returners’ buying clothes without the intention to keep them or even wearing the pieces once for an event, and then returning the pieces to receive their money back.

This is heightened by the rise of ‘haul’ trends on social networks such as Tik Tok and Instagram reels, where people will place a huge order, do a try on for video content, and then return them. Whilst of course it’s acceptable to send clothes back after a try on, wearing for a long period of time is taking advantage, and could inevitably make the clothes sent back of an unreturnable quality.

However, this can cause somewhat of a friction point for retailers, who, when receiving items back that have clearly been worn or worse, are no longer of a saleable quality, risk ruining the relationship with the customer if they don’t accept the return, a cost that could be more expensive than the swallowing of the return cost itself. Surprisingly, almost 60% of retailers have come forward and said that they would still refund a customer, no matter what the condition of the product is to ensure that the positive relationship is maintained.

Another reason why people may over order is to receive free delivery. With many baskets capped up to a certain price before removing charges of up to £10 for delivery, many people will order more than they need in order to avoid that cost, always with the intention to send back the products.

One solution to the problem of over ordering or ordering with the intention to return is by charging for returns, or postage for the cost of the item which has been sent back. This deters ‘time wasters’ – approximately 12-20% of customers make up 80% of refunds – who crave free and flexible returns in order to take advantage of the benefits.

Larger companies, with the technology to do so, including Harrods, ASOS and Amazon have decided to take matters into their own hands by tracking ‘serial returners’, and, if noticing that they are taking advantage of the companies policies, even going to the lengths of deactivating accounts and blacklisting customers as a last resort.

As the cost of living crisis continues to rise, there will be even less flexibility for loss made from returns. As margins tighten, brands are left with no choice but to continue to raise the prices of their product, inevitably leading to more returns as people are unable to afford as much as they previously could. What feels like somewhat of a vicious circle in the consumer x brand returns war, but this story is one that is definitely to be continued…