A Returns Policy Is For Life, Not Just For Christmas
by Laura Gee
According to CEBR, UK shoppers spent a staggering £19 billion online over the festive period and £4.8 million of this may end up being returned. It’s certainly no secret that January is the highest month for returns, typically seeing 85% more returns than any other month of the year but as retailers wake up to the increased volumes and the challenges they bring, it’s important to consider their ongoing strategy for leveraging returns, not just reacting to the influx of unwanted gifts.
We’ve been monitoring the returns landscape closely over peak and discovered that despite Royal Mail’s claims that 2nd January would see record-breaking numbers of returns on ‘Take-Back Wednesday’ (not nearly as catchy as last year’s ‘Takeback Tuesday’ in my opinion), ReBOUND’s own data shows that this spike did not match the volumes of returns seen in the aftermath of Black Friday where online returns increased by 143% on Monday 3rd December.
Over the Christmas period, it’s not uncommon to see retailers extending their return policies as a gesture of goodwill, but is it enough to make returns easier for just 2 months of the year and then revert back to a substandard offering? Back in 2016, we published the first ever benchmark on International return policies which ranked leading fashion brands based on a number of different metrics such as ease of navigation, cost of return and how generous the returns window was. Back then, ‘The Great Returns Race’ revealed that less than half of retailers advertised an extended returns policy over the festive period with only 16% allowing returns up until the end of January
With the deadline for festive grace periods looming (13th of January being the most common day for these policy extensions to end), retailers will soon be snapping back to their standard offering. So retailers, if you’re happy to offer extended returns at Christmas, why not commit to doing it all year round?. This year, we were disappointed to see that the landscape hasn’t changed much with just 56% extending their returns policies over peak.
Shopper Returns Behaviour
According to a study by Shopify, offering a returns window of 30 days can increase your conversion by as much as 57%! But with less than half (19) of the 50 benchmarked retailers offering a 30 day or more returns window, many retailers are likely being held back by their returns offering, missing out on valuable sales. Retailers worry that by offering an extended policy, they’re opening themselves up to an influx of returns weeks or even months after the original sale occurred. However this isn’t actually the case, looking at the returns data from a cross-section of our clients who have a 60 day return policy, the average amount of time taken for a shopper to return is just 15.85 days. This is even shorter for a 30 day return policy with shoppers taking just 12.21 days. With the increasing popularity of 'buy now pay later', shoppers are motivated to return their orders faster to avoid paying in the first place!
What are retailers offering?
From the 50 retailers we looked at over this Christmas period, just 3 of their websites had return policies long enough that they didn’t need to extend their policies at all. Both Zalando and George At ASDA offer 100 day return policies year round, whilst Charles Tyrwhitt boasts a lengthy 6 month return window. A surprising 1 in 5 (11/50) retailers were offering just the 14 day mandatory time frame when it comes to their standard returns policy, with almost half of these not extending their policy over Christmas! Amongst these retailers were fashion giants Missguided, Miss Selfridge and Topshop.
|Forever 21||Calvin Klein|
|All Saints||George At ASDA|
|Moss Bros||La Redoute|
|Coast||Lyle & Scott|
|The White Company||Matches Fashion|
|Get The Label||Miss Selfridge|
|John Lewis||Ralph Lauren|
|Jack Wills||Tommy Hilfiger|
|House of Fraser||Topshop|
|Urban Outfitters||Yours Clothing|
Why Should I Extend My Return Policy All Year Round?
75% of shoppers check a retailers return policy before making a purchase, so it’s a great opportunity to differentiate from the competition, especially in the fast-fashion space where clothing ranges are much of a muchness. You need to look at what a short return policy is saying about your brand. A returns policy which is limited to 14 days tells shoppers that you’re trying to nip returns in the bud. In contrast, a 365 day policy speaks volumes about your confidence in your products. It sends a message that you know shoppers will love your products, and that you’re not concerned about them returning them.
We regularly mystery shop the retail market to better understand shoppers return experiences and have found that 28% of shoppers say they feel more valued when a retailer offers a lenient returns window. Our results also indicate that where a shopper feels valued, they were more likely to recommend the retailer to a family or friend, increasing their NPS score.
Of course, you will have some speedy returners who won’t need the extension at all, we saw a return registered as early as 6:50am on Christmas Day, and we’re shocked to see they continued throughout the day, reaching a peak at 11am! However, for those that aren’t eager beavers, you’d be amazed how extending your policy can delight and entice potential shoppers.
Shoppers in your target market will have different expectations and ideas about what’s convenient for them, so offering choice when it comes to returning is essential. As for the retailer, routinely evaluating your returns policy is essential. Is your offering still ahead of the competition? Many retailers will have opted for a 14 day return policy when they launched years ago and haven’t grown or adopted their return policy since. But shoppers are wising up, so there is only so long these return policies can go ignored.
For more seasonal return stats, take a look at this infographic: