Would you be in favour of a mandatory returns fee for all online returns regardless if the sale took place on a marketplace, your website or social media? That’s what the Returns Management Research Group of the University of Bamberg are suggesting – a legally prescribed fixed return fee of around €2.95 (close to £2.50). They reckon that charging a mandatory returns fee could lower the total number of ecommerce returns by around 16%.
With an explosion in online shopping there has also been an explosion in online returns and this is not only costly for retailers but also bad for the environment. The University of Bamberg study results suggest that even a low statutory return fee could be a tool to get online returns under control although they also point out that better pre-sales information is also needed, particularly around sizing for clothing to give consumers confidence that a garment will fit.
Better standardised pre-sales information coupled with a returns fee could be all that’s needed to stop shoppers ordering multiple sizes safe in the knowledge that they can return any unwanted products. the size of clothing is currently not very meaningful, which leads to many online returns and the group call for manufacturers to use binding, standardized size specifications.
The research group surveyed 139 German retailers who sell online.
“The results show that many mail order companies are making great efforts to lower the article-related returns rates. Nevertheless, customer behaviour has not changed noticeably. The potential of classic preventative measures, for example better article descriptions, illustrations and reviews, has been largely exhausted. Now new measures are necessary”
– Dr. Ing. Björn Asdecker, Head of the Research Group Returns Management, University of Bamberg
Dr. Ing. Björn Asdecker points out that many smaller online retailers would like to charge a returns fee, but larger retailers who absorb returns fees make this impractical as smaller sellers would then be viewed as uncompetitive. This is why he suggests that a legally proscribed mandatory returns fee would level the playing field. He also points out that in a world of free post and free returns, prices are artificially inflated to take account of shipping costs and that a mandatory returns fee would mitigate this leading to lower prices for all consumers. After all, why should a consumer with zero or no online returns subsidise a serial returner when a mandatory returns fee would leave those who abuse the system the most paying for the privilege?