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Returns policy: Online retailers clamp down on ‘serial returners’

by Edaein OConnell
16th May 2019

New research shows 20% of online retailers have introduced stricter returns policies to stop ‘serial returners’, with a further 19% planning to do similar within the next year…

Returning items of clothing is part and parcel of online shopping. We’ve all done it, but now one in five online retailers is tightening their returns policy in response to current shopping habits.

According to new research by Barclaycard in the UK, more than a quarter of online retailers have seen a significant increase in the volume of goods being returned in the last two years.

Due to this increase, as well as the growth in the number of ‘serial returners’, the research shows 20% of these retailers are making their returns policies stricter and more stringent; with a further 19% planning to do similar in the next year.

This clamp-down comes after 41% of businesses said too many customers were over-ordering goods, knowing they would be returning the majority of them. What’s more, 31% claim online shoppers are using/wearing items and then returning them.

What do customers think?

The research shows 29% of shoppers order items they intend to return. Not only that, 49% said the returns policy of online retailers influences where they shop and 18% will only shop with those who offer free returns.

However, the increased conversation surrounding sustainability in fashion is leading customers to make more considered choices. It seems 46% are concerned with the impact over-ordering and then returning them has on the environment. Because of this awareness, 11% are reducing the volume of clothes they order and return.

Related: Four ethical activewear brands you need to know about

Speaking about the survey results, director of strategy at Barclaycard, Anita Liu Harvey said: “The volume of goods being returned continues to rise and consumers have come to expect free returns as standard – otherwise they will shop elsewhere.”

“As a result, we are seeing retailers implementing stricter returns policies to try to clamp down on serial returners and reduce the impact that returns are having on their business”.

She continued: “These more stringent policies have begun to affect consumers, with some retailers starting to send warning emails to customers about accounts being deactivated, should unusual or suspicious behaviour continue. On the flip side, it does seem shoppers are becoming more mindful about the purchases they make and the impact their returns could have on the environment”.



In recent weeks, online retailer ASOS announced it would be “toughening up its returns policy” and would “investigate and take action” against shoppers who buy clothing from the website with the intention of wearing and returning them.

The new updated returns policy outlines the reasoning for the change, saying: “We’ve also added in a ‘fair use’ change to the policy. We know the vast majority of you are awesome and loyal ASOS customers but sadly, there are a few people who are spoiling the fun…

“Some people are ordering and returning loads (way, waaaaay) more than even the most loyal ASOS customer would order and some are wearing their ASOS purchases out and about, then returning them for a refund,” they said.

Related: Fabrics to avoid and embrace if you want to make more sustainable fashion choices

“By cutting down on wasteful and unnecessary returns by people taking advantage (not in a good way) of our returns offer (free in 36 countries and counting), we can maintain our great prices and service, do our bit to help the environment and look into ways of making your ASOS experience even better”.

The policy adds: “We get that some of the news headlines sound a bit scary, but if you read the policy, you’ll see this change is really unlikely to affect you”.

Message to customers

In an email sent to customers, ASOS also said they had increased the returns period from 28 days to 45 days; however, after 45 days, those who return an item will receive an ASOS gift voucher in lieu of a refund.

It has also been reported that the retail giant has begun blacklisting repeat returners by deactivating their ASOS shopping accounts. Many took to Twitter to voice their concerns over the alleged move.

ASOS has said if this happens to you and you believe it to be a mistake, contact their customer service representatives to rectify the move.

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