Retailers fight back against repeat returners

I have always been a serial returner: I order clothes, try them on and send them back. I am not alone. Now stores, which have attracted consumers with generous pledges of free delivery and returns, have begun to tighten their policies.

According to research for Barclaycard, 20% of retailers surveyed have implemented stricter returns policies over the past year. A further 19% plan to do so in the next year. Almost a third said that customers are returning items they have worn. (Incidentally, I always return mine unworn.) This is not so much shopping as a free loan for Instagram’s #outfitoftheday. The trade term for this is “wardrobing”.

The retailers’ resistance includes penalising customers for returning goods late, without original packaging or in used condition, with those aged between 25 and 34 most likely to be sanctioned. Some shops issue warning emails to repeat offenders. The online-shopping death penalty is account deactivation. Asos blacklists.

So why are serial returners a growing consumer group? Charlotte Monk-Chipman is the marketing director of ReBound Returns, a company returns for retailers. Asos, Boden and Mango are among its clients. “Someone who buys a lot and returns a lot is not necessarily a bad shopper,” she says. “There are different types of returnerpersonas.”

I’d like to know if one of them is the type who can’t get out to the shops because they have kids and a job but still likes to try things on. Monk-Chipman says the serial returner is sometimes the most profitable shopper, and that sensible stores are not making their returns stricter, only smarter. They are “cracking down on fraudulent behaviour”, not the indecisive or time-poor. Genuine returns, she says, “are a real opportunity, not a problem” for retailers, because they allow businesses to capture vast amounts of data about the fit, quality and styling of a product.

And as consumers become more conscious of the environmental impact of shopping (46% of respondents to the Barclaycard research identified with this category), serial returns will surely reduce. I have barely bought, let alone returned, anything for several months, and I am not missing all those trips to the drop-off point.