Shipping platform Sendcloud has analysed the return policies of 100 UK retailers, providing insights into the evolving dynamics of paid returns in the UK e-commerce market.

Since fashion industry leaders Zara and H&M began charging for returns, the rules of the game are changing.

However, while the fashion sector has embraced paid returns more readily, a split is apparent in the e-commerce industry. 52% of retailers continue to offer free returns, while the remaining 48% do not.

Lack of transparency with retail returns

While paid returns are becoming more common, a lack of transparency surrounds them.

Key elements such as return conditions or a permitted return period can usually be found in retailers’ policies. But only 23% of retailers make their return policies readily apparent on the home page and in 27% of cases, the refund period cannot even be found.

12% of retailers appear evasive in communicating their requirements for returns, making them available only through separate support pages.

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This lack of transparency extends to return costs, with 64% of the retailers who impose return fees failing to disclose the charges upfront.

The lack of upfront communication about return fees, which range from £1.99 to £24.99 and average £5.22 with a mean of £2.95, can lead to dissatisfaction among consumers.

How should retailers approach returns policies?

Sendcloud CEO and co-founder Rob van den Heuvel explained: ‘For years, customers have been accustomed to free returns, but they’ve never actually been ‘free’. In reality, they carry significant economic and environmental costs. Implementing a small return fee can help make customers more aware of this.”

Retailers are advised to make returns as easy and simple as possible to retain their customers in the long run.

Heuvel concludes that “it’s clear that the rules of the game are changing as the era of free returns is past us. Beyond rethinking the costs of returns, it is time for the entire industry to rethink returns.”