Over 60% of U.S. Retailers Would Consider Banning Serial Returners

Sixty-one percent of U.S. retailers said they would consider banning serial returners as Amazon has done to combat the growing wave brought on by over-generous policies, according to a new survey from UK ecommerce software firm Brightpearl.

In the UK, retailers were a bit more forgiving, with 45% of respondents to the Brightpearl survey indicating they would pull the plug on serial returners. The big question is, what criteria would companies use to determine whom to ban?

Recently some retailers famous for their return policies have begun dialing them back, including Nordstrom and L.L. Bean, as the number of customers taking advantage has grown, especially with online purchases.

According to data from ecommerce platform provider Shopify, the brick-and-mortar return rate is about 9%, doubling to 20% for ecommerce and rising to 30% to 50% during the holidays, depending on the category.

The Brightpearl survey, conducted in September by Onepoll, polled 4,000 adult shoppers in the U.S. and the UK, along with 200 retail decision-makers in both countries.

One bit of good news for retailers: a relatively low risk of blowback from a policy punishing serial returners. Only 7% of all respondents said they strongly disagreed with the concept of banning some shoppers, while 11% said they would never shop with a retailer who did so.

In terms of demographics, shoppers aged 18-34 had the highest tendency to be serial returners, with more than 33% saying they have intentionally purchased more items while planning to return some of them. This figure drops to under a third in other age groups. The fact that this tendency skews younger indicates the problem isn’t going away.

Just over one fifth of respondents in the UK indicated that they strongly agree that this is a fair policy for tackling the problem of serial returners and overall 56% of respondents believe it is to some degree a fair policy.

In the U.S. this rises to over a quarter of respondents who strongly agree with the approach, while only 7% strongly disagree, both in the UK and the United States. Meanwhile, only 11% of respondents say they would never shop with an online retailer who imposed this condition.

Retail categories most likely to ban serial returners in the U.S. were toys and gifts (82% of respondents), baby and toddler (80%) and health and beauty and consumer electronics (both 64%). In the UK baby and toddler was also cited by the most respondents (75%), followed by consumer electronics and jewelry and watches (both 67%) and toys and gifts (64%).

Reducing staff costs, both administrative and operational, was the number-one perceived benefit of banning abusive returners, the survey found, cited by 49% of respondents in the U.S. and 33% in the UK. This was followed by protecting operating margins (27% in the UK, 11% in the U.S.), reducing the returns rate (21% in the UK, 18% in the U.S.) and ensuring a positive experience for all customers (18% for both).

While pointing out that Sephora and other retailers use technology to track and monitor returns abuse, the report noted this could cause a negative reaction especially in Europe, with its stricter consumer data policies.

“There is an extremely fine balance between protecting customers’ overall experiences and implementing policies in a fair and transparent manner,” the report stated. “Retailers will need to focus on how they deliver the message to shoppers about their policies in order to ensure that pursuit of operational efficiency does not damage the brand reputation.”

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