New research reveals extent of online returns culture (and what retailers can do to minimise the damage)

British shoppers are returning £5.2 billion worth of goods purchased online each year, reveals Openpay’s Diminishing Returns report. The payment provider’s research, carried out before the UK lockdown, shows that over one in ten consumers (12 per cent) intentionally buy with returns in mind.

With e-commerce transactions hitting a 10-year high following the closure of non-essentials stores, minimising returns is now a priority for online retailers.

As retailers seek out new ways to minimise returns, Openpay’s Diminishing Returns report offers insight into why shoppers are sending so many goods back to stores.

From the 2,004 UK adults polled, 28 per cent say ‘retailers make it too easy to return things.’ However, there’s also evidence that social media is fuelling frivolous purchasing and contributing to the returns culture.

Nearly a third of Gen Zers say they feel pressured to buy things they see endorsed on their social media channels while a sixth of Brits admit to having made impulsive purchases as a result of platforms like Instagram. Compounding the issue further is the one in 10 (12 per cent) who say they don’t like to recycle outfits due to pressures from social media.

One in three shoppers suggest retailers could introduce a small admin fee to deter returns. However, only one in four say they’d buy less if retailers imposed such a charge.

Conscious shopping

But it’s not just retailers who are paying the price: there’s an environmental cost too. Two fifths (43 per cent) of Brits are conscious that returning products generates waste. Two-thirds (65 per cent) believe retailers should minimise packaging and use electric vehicles to reduce their carbon footprint. Additionally, 49 per cent think all deliveries should be carbon neutral and a further quarter say they’d be willing to pay a carbon off-setting fee.

In its report, Openpay has set out a number of recommendations for retailers to minimise returns. These include improving online sizing tools to prevent multiple product purchases and reducing the use of pre-paid return labels. The firm also suggests introducing an industry charter to work towards standard charges for unnecessary returns.

MD Andy Harding comments: “It’s indisputable that consumers have the right to return any item that they purchase online. However, encouraging responsible behaviour towards returns is in the interests of all parties involved. This might be offering sustainable packaging or requiring an initial payment instalment through buy now pay later schemes like Openpay.

“Our research shows that there’s a consumer appetite for a revamp of the returns process. But it’s important that the industry now comes together to drive down returns in a coordinated and committed way.  It’s also crucial that the environmental impacts are considered as consumer awareness around this issue continues to grow.”

Openpay offers a ‘buy now pay smarter’ service, offering shoppers interest-free monthly payment plans.

Photo by Handy Wicaksono on Unsplash