The Returns Race: A Year in Review

April 21, 2017

If, like me, you can’t hit the checkout online without feeling secure about a brands delivery and return information, then you’ll be interested to know which retailers are going that extra mile to ensure shoppers like us feel confident at every touch-point of our online purchase journey. Gone are the days of clambering into a pair of tight jeans in the shop and hoping the zip won’t burst– shoppers are now ordering multiple sizes in multiple colours, and trying these on in the comfort of their own home. It’s not enough to know that our favourite brand accepts returns within a certain period of time – oh no, there are many other important aspects of a return policy that need to be explained in detail so shoppers can envisage a simple process if a product needs to be shipped back.

We are pleased to reveal that the number of brands in the top bracket has almost tripled throughout the year – from just five at the top in Q1 to a healthy 14 vying it out by the end of the year thanks to extra touches in their return policy. Best of all, we only expect to see this number rise across 2017.

Who's Leading?
It’s no coincidence that four of the biggest brands in the UK have been recognised for their consistency across the four quarters: ASOS, Charles Tyrwhitt, Clarks, and French Connection, all of whom have all stepped up into the leader’s category in Q1 and stuck it out across all four Benchmarks. Not only do these brands offer a return window of over 28 days (French Connection offering 30 days, Clarks advertising a time-scale of 3 months, and Charles Tyrwhitt speeding ahead with a super-lenient 6 months), but all four tailor their returns message to three key markets in particular – Australia, Europe and the USA – naturally large markets and key to the brands’ growth cross-border.

Leaders

If you are looking for one trend in particular that has stuck out above all others, it has to be the popularity of free returns. Love them or hate them, the demand for free is here to stay as it becomes the norm in the online shopping world. So much so that our final quarter’s report recorded that for the first time, over half (55%) of brands offered complimentary returns in at least one of the international markets they sold to. But six brands have gone that little bit further, and offered this incentive to all customers worldwide. With further analysis, these six brands are all luxury retailers such Net-A-Porter and Selfridges, who all have high product value and a very targeted customer base.

Understanding the importance of providing a tailored approach to markets overseas will go far to shaping a winner in the returns race. This tailored approach ensures shoppers from each country receive a familiar experience with direct instruction on exactly how to return, making it more likely for them to make an informed decision on their purchase. The number of brands offering this approach to their return policies has increased by 7% since Q1, currently sitting at a very healthy 63%. Special mention must go to Paul Smith, who increased the number of local tailored return policies from four to 20 across the year, and to ASOS and Matchesfashion.com, who are the only two brands in the report who have tailored policies for every country worldwide.

Have any brands dropped?
Despite these positive trends, we have seen two brands (Marisota and Moss Bros) take their eye off the ball during the course of the year and fall down the rankings. Understanding why this drop has occurred can be more difficult. Whilst both brands offered free returns back in Q1, they now lag behind their peers by choosing to no longer offer this as an incentive to customers. This may be down to a financial decision, or a change of tack if focus has shifted elsewhere in the business. Both brands also no longer reinforce the returns message on either their product pages, basket stage or at checkout – and our research shows that this is *key* to preventing customers from abandoning their shopping basket during their purchase journey.

Developing the perfect return policy to guarantee a smooth and stable process is difficult, and even the winning brands have a little more work to do to reach this end goal, as we’ve not yet seen any retailer reach the magic 100% with top marks across the board. However, special mention must go to Lands End, who has moved up the rankings and swiped the crown from previous leaders Clarks, recording a final index value of 77.14% (and the highest score we have seen so far!)

But the work doesn’t stop there – from this year onwards we are monitoring an even longer list of brands as we pull some of the biggest international names in fashion out of our hat in order to measure their global returns proposition. We look forward to monitoring these trends across the weeks and months to come, and to see who’s going to take the global returns crown for 2017.

Check out the latest installment of ‘The Great Returns Race’ now…

the Great return race