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Still Confused About Retail Returns In 2021?

by Laura Gee

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Don’t worry, we’ve unraveled the returns conundrum with IMRG. 

If you’re an online retailer, you’ve seen how fast online returns have been changing.

Between the Covid lockdowns and the shift to online sales – and the evolving expectations of a modern consumer market – we’re looking at a landscape that’s been turned on its head in a little less than a two-year period.

And for lots of online retailers, it’s already hard to keep up.

So to help you stay informed in a fast-changing space, we’ve put together our latest findings in “The Returning Conundrum” – a free, 17-page report on the current state of the returns industry in 2021.

But if you’d just like the Cliff Notes version, we’ve summarised the headlines:

Fashion return rates are still top of the charts

It’s no secret that the fashion industry grapples with some of the highest return rates on record.

And the latest data from IMRG is no different:

In Womenswear alone, 23% of all sales are returned (combined in-store and online) – with Footwear (20%) and Menswear (14%) following just behind.

Those are some serious numbers. And when we compare those rates to the other retail sectors, it’s a stark contrast.

Compared to Electrical Goods (7%), the return rates on Womenswear are more than three times higher – and more than twice as high as the returns on Home & Garden (9%).


So why does the fashion industry have so many returns?

From our own data at ReBOUND, we know that 70% of all fashion returns are related to size and fit – a challenge you won’t see with consumers ordering TVs and coffee tables.

This issue of size and fit also poses an additional contribution to the returns problem - multisize buying. From a shoppers perspective it makes sense, if you’re not sure what size you need, order 2 or 3 and send back the rejects. 

But from a retailer's perspective, any orders that contain the same item in multiple sizes are almost certain to generate returns. 

But it’s not just down to the particulars of the fashion industry. In every sector of online shopping, customers are returning more of their online goods than they were just two years ago.

So shoppers in general are returning more online – and fashion shoppers are returning more than anyone else.

But what about the retailers?


Retailers are becoming more generous with their returns

In the UK, retailers have a legal obligation to give their customers at least 14 days to register their returns.

And even before Covid-19, a huge number of retailers were already giving us more. While 10% were offering the legal minimum of 14 days, a significant 40% were offering a returns window of 28 days – a figure much closer to the 30-day period expected by the average customer.

But as the pandemic continues, we’re seeing more and more retailers extending their returns window – and we’re not talking about small amounts.

Before Covid-19, only 30% of retailers  were offering longer return windows (anywhere from 60 days up to 365 days).

But now, those same longer windows are being offered by a massive 63% of retailers – which means almost two thirds of retailers are giving their customers at least 2 months to return their goods.

That’s a big leap forward in offering longer return periods. And at first glance, it’s not clear why so many retailers would take that risk.

If retailers are facing more returns, why would they want to slow those returns down – and put more of their stock into limbo?

The answer is simple:

Their returns aren’t really slowing down.

From our own data at ReBOUND, we’ve seen what happens when retailers extend their returns policies.

With a 30-day window, the average return comes back within 12 days.

With a 60-day window, that return comes within 15 days.

And when a retailer offers a full 365 days for their customers to return their goods?

They’re getting 95% of their returned goods back within 30 days of the purchase.

So when we look at the data, the message is clear:

You can keep your customers happy with a much longer returns window – with hardly any effect on the actual speed of your returns.

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Consumers don’t want to pay for their returns

We all know the costs involved in returns.

But consumers won’t always be aware (or care!). And for the most part, they expect their returns to be free, or close to it.

In 2019, our Consumer Survey found that 20% of customers expect a free returns process – and less than 13% were willing to pay more than £5 to return their goods.

Since then, we’ve seen a significant shift in customer expectations, with almost 50% of consumers now expecting a free returns process.

It’s a hefty cost for any retailer to bear. But for many brands, eating that cost becomes a worthwhile investment – giving them a healthy boost to their customer retention and brand experience.

According to UPS, 42% of consumers say that free returns contribute to a positive returns experience – and 73% of consumers say that the returns experience affects their repeat purchases.

Or in other words: free returns can create more sales.

And for lots of retailers, that’s an easy win that shouldn’t be ignored.


Looking for more deep insights and useful stats?

We’ve just published our latest industry findings in partnership with IMRG, “The Returning Conundrum” – a 17-page downloadable report that’s packed with insightful statistics and analytical commentary from the experts here at ReBOUND.

It’s a deep dive into the current state of customer returns, and the trends that are driving consumers and retailers to action – with simple and useful strategies to help retailers like you to cut costs and reduce your environmental impact (and keep your customers happy along the way!).

Click below to download our free report – and get the insights you need to make the right choices for your brand and its returns.

Download Report