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Cyber Weekend: The Returns Chapter

November 28, 2017

What Black Friday returns insight can we reveal?

The latest figures suggest that a whopping 21.5m of us have headed online this weekend to snag a bargain, with sales of £7.8b - £10b (depending which forecast you read) expected over the four day sales bonanza. Whilst some retailers such as Dixons Carphone deem it crucial to secure market share, and ensure consumers get great deals, others such as fashion retailer Fat Face have blasted the event as “bonkers” and “bad for business.” Whichever side of the fence you sit, there can be no denying three things: that peak period sales are expected to last for longer than ever, that consumer demand is greater than ever and that 2017 peak is set to break records.

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But this is just half the story. Whilst retailers have made leaps and bounds developing flexible, convenient and speedy delivery options, the focus still remains on “get it out the door,” with the returns process too often sidelined and left underinvested. (Interestingly, the latest research from Sorted suggests that failed deliveries could account for more than £200m worth of returns this year, but that’s a topic for another time!).

There are many reasons why returns can spike during the Cyber Weekend: lack of confidence in gift purchasing, adding multiple items to get the right size, making impulsive purchasing decisions that are later repented… I could go on. We’ve all been there, that flash deal on an electric toothbrush when I have three in the bathroom draw, or that dress that seems like a great bargain until you remember you bought it a size smaller as your actual size was out of stock. Needless to say, for many of us the returns hangover kicks in when we’re surrounded by a mountain of plastic bagging, too scared to check online banking.


So as we wait with baited breath to see how the results unfold and the impact of Cyber Weekend on Christmas peak, we decided to do some data mining of our own to understand what trends in returns we are seeing as enter the eye of the peak storm.

Here’s a snippet of what we noticed:

Typically the returns peak hits a week after a period of heavy promotions - yet for the first year, we noticed a definite spike in returns on Black Friday itself with an increase of 53% returns registered online compared with a typical off-peak Friday.

Last year alone it was estimated that by mid-December £600m of products had been returned to the retailer. But is the returns tsunami starting earlier than ever this year? And if so, why would this be the case?

  1. Did shoppers see a product they’d previously purchased discounted? - In which case this must surely have an impact on sales.

  2. Or is it more about cash flow management? If I have £200 to spend perhaps I’ll order a series of items and then make the decision on what to keep when I have them all?

  3. Or is this a symptom of the new trend for "Black Friday Week" as the industry moves away from mega spikes with promotions running earlier than ever?

We would love to hear your thoughts on what these early figures suggest.

We will be keeping an eye on returns volumes this week to see what returns behaviour we witness and seeing how it compares to previous years… Stay tuned for Part 2. (Don't forget to subscribe to updates)

Thinking about your returns strategy for 2018?  We can help you benchmark your returns policy - Download The Great Returns Race, the official guide to best in class returns.

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