More than half of consumers don't use retailers who charge to return items

Cash-strapped consumers are taking their money elsewhere in response to retailers slashing their free returns policies.

A poll of 2,000 online shoppers found 58 per cent don’t use retailers who charge to return items, with 67 per cent admitting a retailer’s returns policy influences how much trust they place in them.

The findings come as growing numbers of retailers impose charges on customers returning products purchased online, amid soaring volumes of items sent back.

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The study, by global online review platform Trustpilot, which has created a guide to smooth returns, also found 13 per cent have purchased extra items when shopping online just to qualify for free shipping.

With 43 per cent having done so with every intention of returning such items so they benefit from gratis postage with their initial order. The study also found 63 per cent of shoppers decide whether to shop with particular retailers based on their returns policy.

Despite this, just 35 per cent consider the financial impact on businesses of returning items purchased online.

Swaying consumers

Carolyn Jameson, chief consumer and trust officer for Trustpilot, said: “The findings are clear - a flexible returns policy is one of the most important factors in consumer decision-making when it comes to online shopping. Offering free returns may not be realistic for all retailers.

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"In order to win the loyalty of customers it’s clear that businesses need to be thinking about ways they can show flexibility whilst also doing what they can to mitigate the number of returns coming back their way. Displaying reviews and clearer sizing measurements on the website are just several examples."

Those polled also revealed what they look for in a returns policy - these include ‘no quibble returns’ (48 per cent) and convenient return locations (47 per cent). With a minimum return period of 28 to 30 days (27 per cent) also important.

However, in a warning to retailers by far the most valued is free returns - with 71 per cent admitting this is what they look for above all else. Carried out through OnePoll, the study also found of those who've ever sent back an item purchased online, 24 per cent have returned fewer items during the past year.

And 50 per cent have done so because they've spent less money over the web generally.

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Other factors driving down returns numbers include being more considered when buying items (31 per cent) and trying to avoiding the stress of returns (16 per cent). With concern about the carbon footprint of sending purchases back also a factor (eight per cent).

Carolyn Jameson added: “One thing both consumers and businesses are likely to agree on is that returns are inconvenient for everyone. So responsible retailers should be placing a priority on finding a solution, particularly in the run-up to the busiest shopping period of the year - because the reality is, those that don’t heed these warnings may risk being left behind.”

Top 5 categories consumers mentioned ‘refunds’ or ‘returns’ during 2023

  1. Shopping and fashion (145,528 reviews)
  2. Home and garden (47,699 reviews)
  3. Vehicles and transportation (32,735 reviews)
  4. Business services (30,969 reviews)
  5. Travel and vacation (28,640 reviews)
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