Retailers are already under intense pressure, from reduced margins to competition from online giants, and now they face another woe: the rise of the so-called ‘serial returners’, who deliberately buy more items than they intend to keep and return them days later.
Brightpearl we recently surveyed 2,000 consumers across the UK and found that the North East is the worst region for ‘serial returners’, a trend that is costing retailers £7bn a year.
Our research reveals 36% of all shoppers in the North East admit to buying multiple items with the intention of returning some – making them the worse serial returners in Britain.
While the North East tops the list with the most serial returners, it’s an emerging issue that all merchants, across the country, must look to address. 40% of retailers told us they have noticed a marked increase in serial returns over the last 12 months, and more than half of retailers (52%) are seeing their profits severely impacted by the process of managing these returns.
Our findings also show that more than half of all 18-24 year olds intentionally return items they’ve bought, and with that generation’s buying power increasing year-on-year, it’s only a matter of time before serial returner behaviour becomes the norm.
Online shopping has fuelled the rise of the serial returner, alongside generous return policies. It comes as no surprise then that E-commerce retailers are hit harder, with 30% of all products ordered online being returned. This lost revenue is worth £7bn for retailers, with sales coming in that they ultimately cannot recognise.
It’s clear that the nationwide escalating returns issue should be of major concern for retailers and something must be done, urgently. There’s some evidence that retailers are beginning to act to recoup return costs in order to protect the bottom line. For example, 46.7% of (US) retailers now say they charge for ecommerce returns in 2018, up from 39.1% the year before.
That is one option, but doesn’t sit right, and is at odds with the demands of customers. Our study found that 85% of consumers expect retailers to provide returns for free. While offering free returns is resulting in a loss of revenue for retailers, it’s arguably key to their customer experience strategy.
Nevertheless, retailers must find a means of effectively tackling the growing issue of returns. Figures from our research show that over two-thirds (69%) of retailers do not use any technology to manage returns. This is a clear missed opportunity.
Having the right warehouse systems and technology in place can help to optimise the returns process and meet the challenge of serial returners. For example, using technology to centralise your returns data is one way to quickly identify serial returners and helps to put retailers in a much more informed position where they can make decisions on how they can weed out these problematic shoppers.
In addition, the logistical and financial implications of handling rising volumes of returns and the impact on return rates means that flexible warehouse systems should be considered a priority so that retailers are able to meet their consumers’ rising expectations of seamless and free returns while at the same time also protecting their bottom line.
Top ten worst regions for serial returners:
North East (36%)
South East (33%)
North West (30%)
Yorkshire & Humber (30%)
East Anglia (29%)
South West (28%)
Northern Ireland (25%)
Stuart Pick,VP sales at Brightpearl. Brightpearl is a cloud-based ERP for retailers and wholesalers.