How returns became essential in the retail landscape

For as long as people have been able to buy items, they have been returning them. It’s by no means a new phenomenon and retailers across all industries, from technology to fashion know this. However, the rise in online only brands, and online shopping more generally, has seen a steady increase over the last few years in the amount of items customers return.

The changing demands of consumers, the immense range of items which can now be bought online, and an unpredictable retail landscape all contribute to the evolution of returns. However, while this can lay a complex path for retailers, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For retailers who want to attract new customers as well as retain the ones they have, returns is the latest battleground for customer loyalty.

Returns are an important part of the customer experience


A receipt in the bag, or the delivery of an item does not signal the end of a customer’s shopping experience. Returns are now very much a part of the shopping cycle, with our latest research into the attitudes of 2,000 UK consumers showing that 75% of them report returns as an essential part of shopping. In fact, over three quarters (83%) of shoppers surveyed say they would not shop with a retailer again if they had a bad experience with returns.

So with returns being such an important element for shoppers, what can retailers do to make the most of them? The returns process should be as easy and simple as every other part of the customer journey, and delivering the smoothest shopping experience from start right through to the finish is a critical part of that.  

Our research shows that 78% of shoppers said they would purchase more if a retailer offered them free returns, so this is something brands should certainly consider. Other more practical solutions could be as simple as a separate desk for returns in store, meaning customers don’t need to queue with other shoppers, or drop off stations in partnership with other retailers giving customers more options when it comes to dropping off their items.

Combine the cure with prevention

With so many retailers struggling with returns, reducing them where possible is a sensible strategy. There are some ways that retailers can limit the amount of returns they have to manage, and avoid feeling overwhelmed by returns logistics.

Our statistics show that 86% of shoppers have returned an item. Some of the most common reasons being that the item looked different to how it did online (19%), the item was faulty or damaged (25%) or that the quality did not meet their expectations (21%). Better, more accurate product descriptions, more detailed images, and clear sizing guidelines go a long way in giving customers the full picture before products arrive at their door. Returns are not just a headache for retailers, but for consumers too, so eradicating the need for them wherever possible will go a long way in securing long-term loyalty.

Invest in tech that drives convenience  

There’s a technology based solution for almost every problem in the retail sector, and retailers aren’t short of choices when it comes to finding smart ways to give customers a better experience. That being said, understanding what will bring the most value can be half the battle, especially when it comes to making that all important investment of time and money.

When considering technology that customers really want, retailers need to take a holistic view. For the typical fashion shopper, for example, most are not interested in things like virtual reality for trying things on, but a third of shoppers (31%) would be more likely to buy something if they could pay for it after they have decided to keep it.

With that in mind, alternative payment methods can be effective at giving consumers the convenience they crave, while limiting the financial impact of returns, as it allows shoppers try and keep more items before having to part with their hard-earned money.

When looking to integrate a new solution, retailers should think about practical elements they can introduce that will work for shoppers. Offering convenience in returns, as well as payments and delivery will always outperform flashy technology that doesn’t deliver.

Luke Griffiths is the general manager at Klarna UK

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