There are certain taboo subjects which we tend to steer clear of, give a wide berth if you will. Like unfriending Jeffrey Epstein, it’s really not wise to actually to go there. But there’s one subject which is worth closer scrutiny, because it’s getting out of hand.
Because for retailers, the taboo is also the elephant in the room, the one thing they’re not that willing to open up about. To what am I referring? Returns. The single worst decision the industry has ever inflicted upon not just itself but us all. And by far the biggest offender is fashion.
You see, not only are returns harmful to retailers, they are harmful to the planet. Now, it would be easy to blame all those serial returners, you know who I’m referring to. Order 20 items, wear half a dozen, then return the lot after 28 days. In various states of disrepair.
In a 2018 report by U.K. based Rebound, they found that 60% of 18-25 year olds said that a negative returns experience had resulted in them not shopping with that retailer again.
And according to Newmine Chief Executive, Navjit Bhasin, there are four personas of serial returners: compulsive shoppers, wardrobers, social media wardrobers and bracketers. The latter purchasing multiple items in different colors and sizes with no intention of keeping most of them, simply hedging their bets.
The people who return the most are the most profitable customers, with the top 5% of returners being 30% more profitableBrody Buhler, Global Managing Director, Accenture
It’s a growing global problem. According to Statista, in the U.S. alone, the value of returns is predicted to reach $550 million by 2020. But here’s the conundrum, speaking at the Returns Revolution conference last month, Accenture underlined the fact that a retailer’s serial returners are also likely to be their most profitable customers.
One brand who are trying to change their customers’ behavior is leading online fashion retailer, ASOS, who in April this year increased their returns policy from 28 to 45 days.
But in a statement at the time they said, “If we notice an unusual pattern of returns activity that doesn’t sit right: e.g. we suspect someone is actually wearing their purchases and then returning them or ordering and returning loads……then we might have to deactivate the account and any associated accounts.”
I contacted ASOS for this article and it would appear that only a tiny fraction of accounts have been deactivated since the change in policy, adding that their, “well-publicised policy update has prompted some changes in consumer behaviour.”
ASOS aren’t alone of course. It seems that the entire industry is befuddled by returns, caught in a catatonic state, convincing itself that having a great returns policy somehow constitutes great customer service.
It’s time the industry woke up to the epidemic which returns has become.
Optoro, like Newmine and Rebound, focus on working with retailers to reduce returns however they estimate that just 50% of returns goes back into store inventory. The state of the garments-owing to use, damage, or even just opened boxes, meaning that the other half enjoy a very different journey.
This might involve returning to their manufacturer or reselling them but often they might be sold at a fraction of the original cost to discounters or liquidators. Quite apart from the carbon footprint of often transporting discarded clothes around the globe, trying to find them a home, if at any stage of the process it’s less expensive to throw them away, landfill becomes the final destination.
And in this Instagram age, where it seems anything and everything needs to be selfie friendly, returning brand new clothes is now seen to be somehow acceptable behavior.
And guess what? The industry, instead of getting to grips with the problem, is merely paying lip-service to it. Because who’s going to blink first?
In an age when we’re rapidly coming to view such as plastic and fossil fuels as enemies of the planet, and a 16-year-old girl can berate us on climate change, spare a thought for where that returned dress or jacket or shirt or pair of shoes might find their final resting place. Chances are they could end up being fed to the birds.