Half of retailers set to ban ‘serial returners’

Nearly half (45 per cent) of retailers are planning to ban ‘serial returners’ – those shoppers who deliberately and regularly buy multiple items with the intent to return some.

This is according to a survey from Brightpearl conducted last month among 4,000 adults who shop online in the UK and the US, in combination with the views of 200 UK and US retail decision makers. It found that over a third of UK retailers have seen an uplift in serial returners over the last 12 months.

The enterprise resource planning platform’s research showed that returns cost approximately £60 billion in the UK yearly, £20 billion of which is generated by items bought over the internet.

Research from Barclaycard in June revealed UK shoppers are returning £7 billion of purchases every year, leading to a ‘phantom economy’ of lost revenue for retailers.

Following a move pioneered by retail giant Amazon - which in May started closing accounts of customers who request too many refunds - many brands are now considering banning customers that return too many items, with a quarter of retailers admitting that introducing lifetime bans for problem shoppers is a necessary move to protect their slim margins. In addition, a third of UK retailers would impose bans to save time and administration resources.

Of the brands Brightpearl spoke to, more than half (55 per cent) of all clothing and fashion retailers are set to implement similar measures to Amazon, while 67 per cent of consumer electronic firms plan to do the same. Perhaps more surprisingly, baby and toddler retailers are the most ruthless market segment, with three quarters expected to ban serial returners in the near future.

The worst offenders were found to be shoppers aged 18-34, where over a third of respondents confess to having intentionally bought more items than they intended to keep.

The research revealed that most shoppers are broadly in favour of bans for serial returners, with 56 per cent agreeing it’s a fair policy. However, there are clear differences in attitudes depending on age groups, with 18-24s much more likely to be unconvinced.

Overall, just seven per cent of respondents disagreed about banning serial returners, whilst one in ten said they would never shop with an online retailer which imposed bans for returning too many items.

Part of the problem of serial returning lies in the fact that many retailers do not currently have the right technologies in place to identify repeat offenders, with 59 per cent telling Brightpearl researchers that they could not identify, or do not know whether they can identify, who their serial returning customers are.

“In today’s consumer-led retail environment, intentional returning could spell disaster for retail business owners if they do not have visibility over regularly returning customers,” commented Brightpearl chief executive Derek O’Carroll. “Without this, retailers will struggle with the definition and consistent application of their returns strategies – and could face a resulting backlash from shoppers.”

However, only 18 per cent of retailers believe banning serial returners would lead to a reduction in return rates overall – suggesting that the increasing amount of returns the UK retail sector is facing is here to stay.

Garment Quarter, a designer clothing brand, has done just that, to offset issues with problem returners.

Managing director John Reid said: “We introduced technology earlier this year that enables us to build a single source of information around customer returns, including the ability to monitor serial returners to see how the trend develops over time and whether we need to review our returns strategy.”

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