New Barclaycard research has shown 26% of retailers surveyed said they had seen a rise in returns, with the number of returned items up by 22%.

Online returns are fuelling the rise of the ‘serial returner’ says Barclaycard, with up to half of the money spent every year on online shopping (£313) returned to the brand.

Shoppers say the main reason for returning clothing is size variation – two in five consumers say they return clothing bought online because items don’t fit as expected.

However, to avoid sizing issues, instead of measuring against sizing charts, one in 10 shoppers are buying multiple sizes of the same item and returning those that don’t fit.

Shoppers are calling for brands to improve their sizing to make sizing more standardised across retailers. 16% would also like to see wider use of technology online, such as augmented reality, to help them visualise how products will look.

Retailers are trying to tackle the growing issue

The top 10 methods retailers have introduced to help combat the rise in returns are:

  1. Provided more information about products online, e.g. exact measurements – 52%
  2. Made the returns policy more transparent e.g. making it more prominent on a website – 48%
  3. Increased the price of items to cover the cost of managing and processing returns – 29%
  4. Worked with a logistics provider to speed up the returns process – 28%
  5. Introduced a new system to handle returned stock that can’t be re-sold – 26%
  6. Ensured ‘quality purchases’ by limiting the options available to customers based on preferences – 25%
  7. Reduced the time customers have to return items to get a clearer picture of stock inventory – 23%
  8. Lengthened their returns policy – 23%
  9. Hired more employees to process and manage returns – 20%
  10. Introduced a ‘try before you buy’ service – allowing customers to only pay for items they decide to keep – 18%

The survey also found that 69% of shoppers expect free online returns as standard, and 41% of retailers consider free returns as one of the business’s strongest selling points. A further 37% say providing free returns has led to increased customer satisfaction and 44% feel they need to offer this service to keep up with the competition.

Konrad Kelling, Managing Director of Customer Solutions at Barclaycard, said:

“It’s clear having an effective and convenient returns policy that satisfies customer needs is a crucial factor of success for retailers. While many have adopted new processes to help manage increasing returns volumes, the real focus should be on measures which help to reduce over-ordering in the first place.

“Implementing technology such as virtual fitting rooms which allow shoppers to visualise how products will look when worn, for example, is one way retailers could reduce the number of returns and refunds they contend with, and in turn, the size of the ‘phantom economy’.”

eShopWorld Insight:

International retailers should treat returns as an essential part of the customer experience. Having a transparent returns policy clearly displayed on product pages is key to building trust with online shoppers. Strong communication during the returns process will be expected by customers regardless of the market they shop from.