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The Cost of the Serial Returner

Reading Time: 3 mins
By Published On: April 9, 20180 Comments

What can retailers do to combat the rising number of returns within the fashion apparel industry? Kimberley Carr, CPO of Rakuten Fits Me, shares the strategies retailers can implement to address this.

Back in 2016 we saw the first year that consumers made more purchases online than offline and this trend is amplified in the fashion industry; not only is spending increasing but we’re seeing continued growth of pureplay retailers, such as Amazon, Net a Porter, Zalando and ASOS.

While these e-tailers have seen great success in growing online revenues they’re often less willing to discuss their growing return rates and the emergence of the ‘serial returners.’


Clothing return rates are considerably higher than any other industry, and one of the biggest drivers of this is customers not knowing what will fit them and what won’t. Rakuten Fits Me has found that sizes can drastically vary across different retailers; when comparing sizes across 8 popular brands, the fit model measurements varied by up to 15cm for the (supposedly) same size.

Even within the same retailer, sizes can vary by garment type or cut. A shopper may need different sizes in different styles or garment types, creating unpredictability around what size will fit them best and thus greatly increasing the chance of a return. Even loyal customers suffer with fit; our research shows that 88% of shoppers report a feeling of frustration with regards to sizing inconsistency and problems with fit. 


Nowadays, the speed and convenience with which purchases can be made and returned has led to the emergence of the ‘Serial Returner’ – those who knowingly over-order with no intention of keeping every item. They may buy multiple styles in different colours in various sizes, knowing they can try them on in the comfort of their home, and can be returned with little hassle and no cost. Research found that 30 percent of shoppers admit to this deliberate over-purchasing, knowing they will return unwanted items and 20 percent admit to ordering multiple versions of the same item so they can make up their mind at home.

Returning clothes is now almost too easy for the consumer; most of the largest fashion retailers in the UK offer free returns and there has been a recent surge in the different methods of returning, making it more and more convenient. So, this is all excellent news for the customer, but what about the retailers?

Online retailers surveyed admitted that managing returns had an impact on their bottom line as they need to cover the cost of logistics, processing, storing and packaging. The Financial Times estimates that the average returned purchase in the UK passes through seven pairs of hands before it is listed for resale, and ASOS stated that a 1 percent drop in their returns would add $16 million to the company’s bottom line.


  • Time lags & discounting

Fashion is getting faster; Zara claims to be able to get an item of clothing from inception to store in less than 4 weeks. Once it’s been on the shelves for the same amount of time again, it’s already on the sale rack. If we consider a 28 day return policy, then by the time something has been sent back to the warehouse and is ready for resale, it already has to be discounted. And this is on the assumption that it can be resold at all. We all know someone who buys a new dress, keeps the label in, wears it once and hopes the retailer is lenient enough to offer a full refund…

  • Opportunity cost of lost sales

Returns result in problems with stock visibility as products go through cycles of being in and out of stock. For a customer, if they want to buy a product but see it is out of stock, then that’s a lost transaction. By the time that item has been returned and is back in stock, that consumer has inevitably lost interest and has forgotten the product altogether.

  • Customer loyalty

Research suggests that up to 80 percent of first time shoppers will never shop at a retailer again if they’ve sent back their first order. This means customer acquisition costs remain high because a dress doesn’t fit how the customer wanted it to. Retailers spend so much time, effort and money acquiring new customers, so why lose them at the final hurdle by promoting clothes that aren’t the right fit?

So, what can retailers do about it?

40 percent of shoppers who regularly return items said they would send back fewer purchases if sizing was easy to understand across brands, channels and geographies. Retailers simply must offer a better online solution and something more than just a traditional size chart.

Simple steps can be taken such as including product reviews, model specification info and videos and including fit recommendation technology. Fit recommendations which combine shopper body shape data with garment data has proven to provide the most accurate recommendation and consequently reduce returns in the process.

About the Author: Power Retail

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