Britons are serial fashion returners - Barclaycard report

British consumers are “serial returners” and that's only adding to the woes on the UK high-street with fashion at the forefront, a new report shows.


UK consumers buy plenty of fashion online but send almost half back


Consumers who regularly buy more items than they plan to keep - usually online - and then return them a few days later because of liberal returns policies have driven a rise in the number of items being returned.

New figures from Barclaycard show that around a quarter of retailers have seen their returns rising in the past two years with fashion retailers most affected. Nearly 40% of businesses in the fashion sector report rising returns. 

And retailers are caught in a vicious circle as returns may be causing them problems, but they also see them as important in attracting customers to their particular business.

Barclaycard said this consumer behaviour is creating a “phantom economy” with £7 billion of revenue being spent in stores but then flowing back to consumers. 

We all know that returns create a logistical nightmare with a lack of clarity on what has and hasn't been sold (especially during the all-important Christmas period) and the fact that goods may be theoretically out of stock when they'll actually be back in the store or on the web store a few days later.

The returns problem is particularly acute online, and with large retailers introducing try-before-you-buy options that encourage consumers to order more, over-ordering is becoming an ingrained habit. Barclaycard surveyed 2,000 people and found that UK shoppers spend around £313 on fashion online  each year, but send back £146-worth. And worryingly, as many as one-third of shoppers buy items with absolutely no expectation of keeping them. 

Another problem with returns is that some tried-on items simply can't be put back onto the shelves as new and may have to be discounted, while consumers hanging onto goods as long as they’re able means that by the time some stock is returned it’s out-of-season anyway and has to be marked down.

But why are consumers over-ordering? Clearly, some just like having as much choice as possible. But inconsistent sizing is a partial cause of the problem with as many as 40% of consumers returning items because they didn't fit as they expected them to. Barclaycards suggested that virtual fitting rooms could be one solution as these would help consumers visualise the items on their own bodies.

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