The Risks of Relegating Returns

Everyone knows that a brilliant customer experience is one of the most important ways to build loyalty, increase average basket value and win over new customers. So much time, money and effort is - rightly - invested in making online shopping journeys as easy and straightforward as possible.

Given this, it’s surprising that returns remain a relatively overlooked part of the journey. They are one of the last few under-leveraged areas in retail, yet hold so much potential to positively impact the customer lifecycle. 

To understand what customers really want and where the opportunities lie, we recently asked online shoppers about their experience with returning goods. The results make for a  fascinating read.


In a nutshell, retail returns are at their peak with the volume of items being returned growing rapidly over the course of the year - just when flexible return options are needed the most, shoppers are struggling with them more than ever. It’s also clear that the pandemic has changed the way people go about returning their items. (And retailers, take note - because these new habits may be here to stay.)

There is a wealth of great data and useful insights in our full report, but three statistics from this really throw this issue into sharp relief.

Firstly, as we all know, ecommerce has been critical during recent lockdowns. With restrictions around shops opening and people venturing from home, the race towards online has switched up a gear. 

But, correspondingly, the demand for returns has also been dialled up. Right now, one in every three items bought online is returned to retailers (excluding, food and grocery orders). This is an astonishing volume of inbound traffic for retailers to manage, but shows how common returning is during a customer’s shopping process.

Despite this, 83% of people say retailers need to do more to make the returns process as easy and fuss-free as possible

What’s going wrong?

Well, shoppers say returns are still a time-consuming and inconvenient process. (So much so, that they are sitting on a backlog of unreturned items to the tune of approximately £2.4billion in value.) 

People prefer to avoid traditional return options that prevent them from being able to socially distance or mean they have to queue for longer than necessary. Tedious paperwork and admin around returns is also problematic.

But people aren’t letting this stop them completely.

Instead, they are turning to new ways to return items back to retailers, with well over half (55%) saying they tried a new method of returning goods during the pandemic. Shoppers are looking at options they may not have used before - such as parcel shops or lockers - that are easy, accessible and available when it suits them.

Some may say this is just a sign of the times. Necessity has always been the mother of invention. But will these new habits stick after restrictions on daily life come to an end?


For retailers, the risk isn’t worth taking: The research highlights clearly the damaging impact a poor returns experience can have on loyalty and reputation.

The future looks to be a competitive one in the retail sector. So retailers should be looking at every tool at their disposal to bolster their relationship with customers. There remains a wealth of opportunity to do this with delivery and returns. 

Now read on!

To download the full Returns.Unpacked. report, click here.

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