Lockdown logjam: UK sitting on £2.4 billion backlog of unreturned items

As we approach the one year mark of the first COVID-19 lockdown, changes in consumer behaviour across many sectors have become more apparent. These changes have essentially created a domino effect, resulting in different sectors booming, declining or maybe even both. A prime example of this is the retail sector; the wider pilgrimage to shop 'online' has helped support pure play and omnichannel retailers but has also led to problems throughout the delivery lifecycle. One of the consequences has been that consumers are struggling to return unwanted shopping under the current restrictions.


The £2.4 billion backlog - the consequence of restrictions on returns

According to research we conducted in January 2021 with Opinium to better understand the attitude towards returns in the current climate, UK shoppers are sitting on a potential backlog of £2.4 billion of unreturned goods bought online. Covid-19 lockdowns have made returning unwanted items significantly harder for them; for example, well over half (57%) of online shoppers say returning items bought online is time-consuming and a hassle given the restrictions.

We also found that:

  • Over half (51%) had more items to return than before the January lockdown
  • Just under two thirds (65%) don’t want to spend time queuing at Post Offices and parcel shops
  • Over half (54%) are concerned about coming into contact with others
  • 62% think retailers need a contact-free returns option


Removing the ‘dis’ in customer dissatisfaction

The million dollar question: are you delivering against your customers expectations? The standard process of taking your parcel to a Post Office or parcel shop to return unwanted online shopping may have been the norm prior to the pandemic, but now there are safety concerns in play and people are veering away from their normal routine. With 45% of consumers saying retailers need to make it easier to return items bought online, they are pushing for retailers to extend return windows, but more importantly, for retailers to introduce more flexible returns options, be that longer opening hours, self-service or contact-free options.


Covid returns infographic


Speeding up the returns journey

Our research also found that consumers (46%) are more cautious about spending whilst they are waiting for a refund from a retailer. Yet, consumers are also refraining from returning their unwanted items because retailers aren’t giving them the flexibility to do this in a fast and convenient way. For example, 62% want retailers to have a contact-free returns option so they feel more secure making returns.

If retailers made the whole process easier for their customers, the wider economy would benefit, as well as their own business - both by being able to resell the product faster and by getting the customer back spending again. 

All of which underlines that returns can be a valuable, if often overlooked, opportunity for retailers to build goodwill with customers, if they can make these easier while restrictions remain.

So, what would make returns faster and more convenient for a customer? 

On their terms - By providing your customers with an option that is 24/7 and self-service, you’re letting them operate according to their own timeline. No more standing in queues at lunchtime or rushing to an in store drop-off point before it closes. 

No printing - Removing the hassle of printing a returns label for your customer. Using our label-free service makes it considerably easier for customers to just scan their QR code and drop the parcel off. No labels and no printing.

Trip chaining - This means allowing customers to return their parcels while going about their regular activities such as grocery shopping or commuting to work, which will particularly help as we come out of lockdown. InPost Lockers are strategically placed in locations such as supermarkets, railway stations, and leisure centres to make sure that customers have easy access - therefore allowing returns to be part of their daily routine rather than it being seen as a burden.


The outcome and future of returns

Across the majority of the shopping experience, retailers offer choice and flexibility to their customers. So why should returns be any different? Consumers need their expectations to be met, or there’s a good chance that they’ll take their business elsewhere. About a third are now more likely to check returns policies when shopping online and 42% say in general they tend to buy more from retailers they know have a wider variety of return options. The trends we’ve seen over the course of the year will only continue to accelerate and providing the right options will become both expected and valued by customers. Now that shoppers are aware of other more convenient options available to them, they will continue to search for retailers who can provide these, making their lives easier. 

Find out more about integrating our Instant Returns service as one of your options here.

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