Research shows customers are happy to pay for online returns – as fashion returns rise by 55%

Nearly three quarters (73%) of consumers admit to buying multiple sizes of clothes online with the express intention they’ll return those that don’t fit, and almost as many (64%) say they regularly multi-buy colours according to new research from ReBOUND, the platform helping the likes of ASOS manage returns. The research was published as separate ReBOUND data revealed that volumes of online fashion returns coming back to UK brands and retailers so far this year is currently 55% higher than this time in 2021.

Against this backdrop, a number of high street retailers have started to charge for returns, with household names making headlines with regards to paid returns policies, which was met with a backlash by some.

But the research undertaken by ReBOUND, a Reconomy Group company, reveals that the majority of modern online fashion shoppers would accept subsidising their own returns. ReBOUND and CensusWide surveyed more than 1,000 online shoppers and found that 69% of consumers were happy to pay to return unwanted fashion purchases – as long as the money was used to subsidise more environmentally friendly return options.

ReBOUND’s research found that more than half (54%) of online shoppers say they plan to limit their own spending over the next 12 months to reduce their environmental impact. 61% said they planned to focus their spending on retailers offering sustainable delivery and returns options. Overall, 87% of consumers said they would also prefer to use sustainable delivery options if these were offered by brands and retailers.

However, the research also indicates that brands hoping to introduce paid-for returns will need to carefully plan how they communicate the announcement and justify costs. There are clear limits to how much consumers are willing to spend and while nearly half (48%) were happy to pay at least an extra 50p per return for a sustainable return method, just 22% said they would pay more than £1 in additional fees.

Furthermore, when asked to name all parties they believe should share the responsibility for making online returns more environmentally sustainable, 81% of consumers selected retailers and brands, 44% chose delivery carriers and just 23% said shoppers themselves should share in the responsibility. Retailers may need to think carefully about how to change customer perceptions around the shared responsibility for sustainable ecommerce and what can be regarded as a ‘reasonable’ amount to pay for greener returns.

Emily Cotterill, Head of Sustainability at ReBOUND, said: “Fashion retail is facing a flood of returns and the tide keeps rising, so it’s no surprise to see brands exploring new policies such as charging for returns. While there has been some initial backlash to recent announcements of paid-for returns, this research highlights that consumers are willing to pay if they know their money is subsidising a more environmentally-friendly delivery and returns option. However, brands have a responsibility to educate shoppers on the benefits of paying for these sustainable measures and must be transparent in what the extra money is funding- whether that’s electric vehicle transportation, or carbon offsetting measures.

“The door is open to subsidised sustainable returns and there’s an opportunity for fashion brands to take the lead, clearly demonstrate how the extra money can make a tangible difference and shape consumer attitudes. Success will support healthier bottom lines and a more environmentally sustainable ecommerce sector in the long term.”

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