Retailers battle £7 billion ‘phantom economy’ as shopper returns continue to rise

UK retailers are losing out on potential revenue as online and in-store return see sharp uptick, new data has revealed.

New research from Barclaycard, which processes nearly half of the nation’s credit and debit card transactions, reveals that 26% of retailers have seen a rise in returns in-store and online over the last two years, with the number of returned items up by 22% on average.

Return figures are highest for accessory and fashion retailers as consumers increasingly change their minds after making a purchase, with almost four in ten (37%) of these businesses reporting that refunds have risen since 2016.

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Over half of Brits (52%) think that retailers have made the returns process more convenient, while 29% of merchants say this is a direct cause of the rising ‘serial returners’ trend. In fact, just over half (54%) of retailers think that customers’ decisions about where to shop are now influenced by the vendor’s returns policy.

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’.”

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