Retailer ‘returns silence’ causes chaos for consumers and brands

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Online retailers are leaving customers to fend for themselves when they return items, causing exasperation and risking future sales, according to new research.

Returns management platform ReBOUND questioned 1,000 UK online shoppers and found that while the shopping journey is littered with touchpoints between retailers and consumers, many shoppers are being left in the dark when returning items. Around half (49%) of consumers only hear about a return after their refund has been processed, meaning they’re left unaware that their item has been collected or received, while 11% receive no communication whatsoever.

More than a third (35%) said that retailers did not make it easy for them to send items back, and nearly half (46%) of all respondents said they had stopped shopping with a retailer because the returns process was hard or unclear.

ReBOUND’s own data indicates confusion with many existing returns processes, with more than half (55%) of returns forms either incorrectly filled in or not filled in at all. This results in returns taking longer to process both returns and refunds for shoppers, while also leaving retailers with glaring data gaps and confusion over why items have been returned.

While online retailers have made marked improvements to the purchase and delivery phases of the shopping journey in recent years, the same cannot be said for returns. Yet shoppers see returns policy as a significant factor when deciding which retailer to shop with. Research previously released by ReBOUND found that 90% online consumers say that returns are important in their shopping decisions, and almost half (49%) state returns are very important. More than two thirds (68%) of consumers say they check an online retailer’s returns policy before completing a purchase.

To highlight the returns communication gap between retailers and consumers and explore opportunities to improve the returns process, ReBOUND are launching the first UK event focused on tackling the returns challenge,The Returns Revolution. The inaugural event will take place on Tuesday 2nd October, providing data-driven advice for brands alongside speakers from Wiggle, Surfdome, Sky and IMRG addressing hundreds of senior retail decision makers at Millbank Tower, London. Attendees can register their interest via

“Online retailers would never dream of ignoring their customers in the lead up to a purchase, yet many are happy to leave shoppers in the dark when it comes to returns, creating confusion and chaos. We’ve launched The Returns Revolution to highlight this returns silence and warn retailers that returns complacency is risking their brand and future sales. Retailers need to stop looking returns as a cost of doing business and instead as a lever to build their brand.”

Graham Best, CEO, ReBOUND


4 Responses

  1. There is actually a strong counter argument to this. Amazon, for example, has started banning customers who make too many returns and we may well have seen the high water mark for online returns.

    Customers should always have the option of returning an item if it is defective or not the item they ordered. The problem is that it can become a real drain on resources for a business, especially those trading in clothing or footwear.

    The answer, surely, lies in trying to minimise returns by making descriptions as accurate as possible , providing ample photos and answering any queries quickly and honestly. The customer also needs to pause and make sure the item really is what they want before committing to purchase. They also need to ask the right questions and wait for a response – the drive to one-click instant purchases is probably driving up returns.

    If you survey customers, they are bound to say that returns are important to them – why wouldn’t they? The constant move towards longer return periods is not really helpful to either customers or sellers in the long run. It will also lead to higher prices, as business factor in their returns rate into pricing.

    The only real beneficiaries from increasing returns are carriers, for whom returns represent a sizeable chunk of their revenue (whoever pays!)

  2. “If you survey customers, they are bound to say that returns are important to them”, a lot of surveys can be manipulated in the way you ask the question.

  3. I really hope that Andy’s comment about the high water mark on returns having been reached with Amazon is true, its about time common sense, and personal responsibility played a larger part in the equation.

    E-Bay don’t seem to have reached that same conclusion though given recent policy ‘improvements’ (their words not mine).

    Returns processes just need to be as simple and quick as possible, get the items back, process the refunds. The quicker it all is, the less damage is done. I don’t think this is hard to grasp at all. I am only a small retailer so whilst managing the odd return is a pain, its by no means a problem which requires much effort.

    The solution to returns is to put the effort in preventing them in the first place, rather than inventing a glorious process at the tail end to receive it all back in again.

  4. I agree with the article and I also agree with Andy’s “counter” comments: whilst I think that a clear (and easy) returns policy is crucial if retailers want to capture sales, I also believe that there is a lot that retailers can do to reduce the number of returns they are processing. Better product information is definitely key to that.


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