Feb 17, 2023
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2022 was year of returns deluge with consumer behaviour changing

Feb 17, 2023

As more and more online retailers start charging for returns, the end of free returns could be getting closer. And consumer behaviour in 2022 turned the returns trickle of 2021 into a flood, which added to the likelihood that more e-tailers will introduce a fee.

Photo: Pexels/Public domain

Data from ReBound — a returns specialist — shows that UK retail returns hit a record level in 2022 as the cost-of-living crisis hit consumers hard.

There was a 26% increase in returns compared to 2021 with 28 November the busiest day as buyer remorse set in following Black Friday sales.

And that 26% rise in returns came despite online retail purchases being 11.5% lower.

ReBound analysed transactions dating back to 2021 finding that consumers' impulse purchasing on Black Friday caused a huge spike in returns in late November. Some 308% more products  were sent back on the 28th compared to the average day in 2022, emphasising the post-purchase regret after making quick decisions. 

But it also said that the busiest month for returns was December, which really highlighted how shopper behaviour is changing and being influenced by external factors. “Since ReBound’s inception, January has consistently been the most hectic month as unwanted gifts were returned in the New Year,” it said. “However, December 2022 marked the busiest month ever for returns, with this partially driven by logistical issues. Strikes inevitably delayed some presents to the point that they arrived too late for Christmas, and consumers acted quickly to send back those they didn’t need”. 

Fashion retailers have also pointed out that post-pandemic consumers were more likely to send items back because they were buying different types of products than they had done during and just after the pandemic. The loungewear and trainers people bought during and shortly after lockdowns offered fewer fit challenges. But items like dresses and more formal shoes were increasingly popular as 2022 progressed. They need to fit perfectly so were more likely to be sent back.

Jelle Schoenmaker, MD at ReBound, said: “Factors beyond retailers’ control are combining to create a perfect storm for returns. The pandemic, imminent recession, crucial couriers and transport going on strike and the cost-of-living crisis are all snowballing into an avalanche of returns. With so many products coming back, retailers are having to consider what they do with the excess stock. Whether that is sending it to charity, recycling, re-selling or moving to another country, difficult decisions will need to be made to avoid this unplanned additional stock becoming a financially damaging burden. 

“In addition to the wider factors, at the moment, consumers are only keeping what they really love. Although this has been a growing shift in consumer mindset for a number of years, with returns consistently increasing, skyrocketing household bills have turbocharged this trend.

“With returns volumes increasing, the importance of ensuring a positive experience for each customer is more critical than ever. Consumers want and need refunds quickly and are making decisions faster on what they want to keep so brands and retailers need to ensure they are monitoring why products are being returned to improve their product listings. 

“Alongside the consumer experience, returns volumes of this scale will have enormous environmental and economic costs. Retailers should act now, tracking returns data to understand how carbon emissions can be cut from inefficient routes and how to provide shoppers with purchases they’re more likely to keep.”

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