Reaching a Point of No Returns

Online shoppers can no longer take free returns for granted. The number of UK and European retailers offering customers free returns in at least one international market dropped from 55 percent in the first quarter of 2017 to just 28 percent in the latest benchmark report from research firm ReBOUND.

Most brands are still not being up front about their returns policy, with only six percent of retailers promoting their returns policy at all three key stages of purchase—product page, basket page, and checkout page.

The Great Returns Race report tracks the return policies of more than 200 retailers using seven key metrics that measure various aspects of returns—from choice of returns options and time frames for refunds, to policy reminders and free returns.

One noticeable trend to emerge is the large drop in free returns being offered in the UK, Ireland, Germany and the United States—despite them potentially boosting online purchases by a huge 357 percent. The challenging political and economic landscape likely influenced this fluctuation, with some brands only temporarily removing free returns as a benefit for customers.

The report also shows a five-percent increase in brands offering customers different returns periods to account for varying transit times, and a three-percent improvement in website accessibility, which considers the number of "moves" it takes for a customer to access returns policies online.

"If brand loyalty is the dream, then an awesome customer returns experience can absolutely influence repeat purchase decisions," says Charlotte Monk-Chipman, head of marketing at ReBOUND. "But many top brands are still missing a trick here. The return journey begins online, long before a customer buys something and tries it on."

The Great Returns Race: Key Findings

  • 7% of brands now advertise different return periods to account for longer transit times in markets further afield.
  • 17% of brands still do not offer choice of local return method to their customers.
  • On average, it takes 3 moves to navigate to a brand’s return policy on a desktop, 4 moves on a mobile, and 3 moves on a tablet device.
  • 18% of the top global fashion brands simply have a blanket return policy for their international customers.
  • On average, across the 206 brands it takes 10 days to process a refund.
  • 8% of brands now offer free returns to all markets worldwide.
  • 39% of brands still do not offer free returns in any market globally.
  • 30% of brands use returns as a marketing tool through a promotional banner on the homepage.

SOURCE: The Great Returns Race, ReBOUND.

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