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    E-commerce brands slash perks, with consumers no longer given a free ride on returns

    The cutbacks reflect current economic turmoil.

    E-commerce brands are reining in generous return policies ahead of the holiday season, with a quarter of online retailers now levying a fee for returning purchases made online – ending a consumer golden age in which freedom to exchange was universal.

    Brushing aside fears of a Scrooge-like Christmas as consumers batten down the spending hatches amid a cost of living crisis, 25% of UK brands – including Zara and Boohoo – now demand customers pay for the privilege of returning unwanted goods, a 14% year-on-year increase.

    The findings are the headline response of a ParcelLab study, which found that consumers must now cough up £3.53 on average to make a return, with refunds taking nine days on average to be processed.

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    The in-depth research arrived at additional findings, including the fact that 30% of brands offer just two options for making returns, with 63% permitting drop-off at a parcel shop and 51% permitting in-store returns. A further 49% employ Royal Mail returns, while 20% ask the customer to do all the heavy lifting by arranging the return directly.

    Tobias Buxhoidt, founder and chief executive officer of ParcelLab, said: “For consumers and retailers alike, returns continue to be one of the biggest pain points when it comes to online shopping. Failure to have the right processes and policies in place can mean the difference between a customer buying from a brand or a competitor, which retailers must take note of in the current economic environment.

    “As the study highlights, while there have been some areas of growth, there is still significant work to be done by leading retailers to build consumer confidence where returns are concerned. Keeping customers informed at each stage of the return and refund process is vital to make them feel taken care of, help to reinforce the relationship and ultimately encourage them to shop with the brand again in the future. With the right returns technology and policies in place, retail brands have a huge opportunity to directly engage with customers, improve satisfaction, upsell purchases and build long-term loyalty.”

    Other titbits contained in the report include a surprising resistance to paperless returns, with 87% failing to adopt the sustainable option. This echoes earlier research showing that direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands are failing to honor green commitments.

    The findings are derived from orders and returns placed with 200 e-commerce brands.

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