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UK retailers' inconsistent return policies revealed by Sendcloud study
Wed, 14th Feb 2024

Findings from research recently launched by Sendcloud highlight that there is an inconsistency in return policies across the Top 100 UK retailers. The study particularly analysed the area of paid returns and how they are managed by different e-commerce traders in the country.

Sendcloud is the complete shipping platform for e-commerce, enabling retailers, marketplaces, and fulfilment companies to scale their operations and deliver great shipping experiences.

The research by Sendcloud revealed a general lack of transparency around paid return policies, with only 23% of retailers making these policies clearly visible on their home pages. Furthermore, 64% of these retailers who charge return fees do not make these charges known upfront to the customer.

While the fashion industry appears to be more adaptable, with four out of five fashion retailers now offering paid returns, the broader e-commerce sector is more divided. Sendcloud's analysis found that 52% of such retailers are still opting to provide free returns to their customers.

There is further opportunity for improvement in facilitating the return process, where just 43% of retailers are offering pick-up services, even though drop-off returns are generally available. According to Rob van den Heuvel, CEO and Co-founder of Sendcloud, "Return policies can be a huge dealbreaker, and offering a smooth returns process is crucial to retaining customers."

"For years, customers have been accustomed to free returns, but they have never actually been 'free'. In reality, they carry significant economic and environmental costs." Given that paid returns are now more prevalent, implementing a small return fee could create more transparency about the associated economic and environmental costs. Mr van den Heuvel remarks, "Implementing a small return fee can help make customers more aware of this. However, retailers have to make this as easy and simple as possible in order to retain their customers in the long run."

On the subject of enhancing convenience, 68% of retailers now offer a return portal where customers can arrange returns with ease. Furthermore, while drop-off returns are a common service, only 43% offer pick-up options. Parcel lockers are yet to be adopted widely, with just 12% of retailers offering them as an option.

In terms of sustainability, 32% of retailers offer paperless returns, which require customers to return their packages by presenting a QR code at drop-off/pick-up locations. However, only a small portion, 11%, offer pre-printed labels for returns, often resulting in customers having to print the label at home.

The return periods still generally vary greatly. They range from the legal standard of 14 days up to 365 days, with an average of 39 days and a median of 30 days reported. Around the holiday season, some retailers tend to offer extended return periods, accounting for 15%.

Looking ahead, Mr van den Heuvel suggested that the time has come for the industry to rethink returns as a whole. Stating, "It is clear that the rules of the game are changing. The era of free returns is past us, making way for conscious returns practices. Beyond rethinking the costs of returns, it is time for the entire industry to rethink returns. Replacing pre-printed labels with QR codes is one way to do so."