UK Returns Policy

The returns policy that big stores in the UK follow must be causing them all sorts of headaches.

Once a couple of the big-name department stores started offering long return dates, the others had to follow, or risk going under.

Any retailer that didn’t want to offer 35-day, or a 60-day, or a 90-day, no quibble returns was going to become less popular in the eyes of those shoppers who love to return stuff.

Rohan don’t have a cut off return date. You can return goods to them a year later, if you want.

And with long return dates came free returns. Now customers expect free returns ‘as standard’. If returns aren’t free they are less likely to buy online from that store.

If the customer fails to spot that returns for a particular store aren’t free, and they have to pay return postage, then that customer is less likely to buy from that retailer again.

Once bitten, twice shy.

Think of the consequences of long return dates and free returns for the retailers. Think about the consequences for cash flow or for seeing how well they did in a given period. Think about re-ordering stock or orders already placed for similar stock to a line that seemed to have sold well.

Suddenly, half the sold stock is returned. Then what? What was the true turnover in the previous period? What does the bank think of the current lending? Where is the retailer going to put all the returns?

How many work hours have to be devoted to the paperwork, to examining the returns for faults, to steam cleaning, re-boxing, checking labels? What about the stuff that cannot be resold?

How are the buyers going to know what to buy for the next season or later this season?

How much was spent on shipping costs to send the goods and for returns? How many boxes were sealed, how much wrapping paper was folded, how many labels were printed?

UK Consumer Legislation

UK consumer legislation says that in remote sales (as in a sale online or over the telephone) the customer can return the goods for any reason within 14 days of receiving the goods. The customer has to bear the cost of returning the goods (unless the goods are faulty), so that’s a disincentive if the seller does not offer free returns.

In fact, the cost of returns is what gives small sellers the edge in not having large numbers of returns stacking up ‘just because the customer changed their mind’.

£7 Billion

The latest figures from Opinium cited in a report by Barclays, says that under the current UK returns policy, shoppers in the UK return £7 billion worth of goods a year to big stores, with fashion having the highest number and value of returns.

The biggest reason cited for fashion returns is inconsistent sizing across different brands.

That may well be true.

But behind the figures I wonder how much is in fact because it’s easy to do, so why not, just to be on the safe side.

Order three of one item – one that’s probably a bit small, one that’s probably the right size, and one that’s (hopefully) too big.

Then send two back and say they were the wrong size.