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Why serial returners aren't as bad as they seem

By Laura Gee

With the recent release of ‘Tidying Up With Marie Kondo’ on Netflix, shoppers across the country are being forced to face the pile of once-worn items at the back of their wardrobe as they finally have that much needed clear-out. For some this pile will consist of squeaky leather trousers and sequin crop tops that were purchased on a whim, for others it’s an amalgamation of party outfits that couldn’t possibly be worn twice.

However, this doesn’t seem to be an issue for some shoppers who believe they’ve found a foolproof way of keeping up with the latest trends whilst also having a fresh wardrobe and a healthy bank balance. How are they doing this you ask? By sending back their worn purchases.

New research from returns management platform ReBOUND has revealed that 13% of shoppers have returned a worn item, with 5.2% doing so more than once in the last 18 months. The behaviour, known as wardrobing, has drummed up some serious airtime in the UK press, calling out Instagram addicts and ‘serial returners’ for this frankly bizarre behaviour.

“Snap And Send Back”

With the press blaming wardrobing on the “snap and send back” phenomenon fuelled by Instagram addicts, we could expect Gen Z-ers to be the worst offenders when it comes to wardrobing. However, ReBOUND’s survey of 2000 shoppers revealed that 25-34-year-olds proved to be the most guilty with 21% admitting to wardrobing. This figure dropped to just 6% for those over the age of 45. But what cost is this having to retailers?

From a survey of 200 retailers, 62% told ReBOUND that wardrobing is a significant cost to their business, with 23% saying the cost is very significant. But with just 5.2% of shoppers overall admitting to wardrobing more than once in the last 18 months, there certainly seems to be some disparity between the estimations of retailers and the behaviour of shoppers. Is this just due to shopper dishonesty? ReBOUND think not…

Coat hangers

The Truth About Serial Returners

According to ReBOUND, your serial returners may actually be your best customers. Many retailers fail to recognise the lifetime value of a shopper, forgetting that being a serial returner also means they’re a serial shopper. The more purchases they make over time, the better they get at buying what fits and what they like, reducing the number of returns they make over time.

Retailers need to stop assuming that 4 or 5 returned dresses makes for a bad, loss-generating customer. We’ve all heard the news of Amazon making the decision to ban their ‘chronic returners’, but it seems even one of the biggest online retailers in the world still hasn’t perfected the equation.

Despite this, many retailers seem to be blindly following the leader, taking the approach of “if Amazon are doing it, so should I”. The reality is that your serial returners and your fraudsters may not actually be the same people, and unfortunately there is no ‘one size fits all’ equation that any retailer can apply. It takes an individual approach that involves looking at your own order and returns data to fully understand each shopper’s lifetime value.

Green dress

The Missing Key

According to a study by Brightpearl, 59% of retailers lack clarity over whether or not they can even identify serial returners. Whilst serial returners and fraudsters certainly shouldn’t be branded the same, this figure speaks volumes for the lack of data retailers are experiencing.

With such basic data unavailable, it seems unlikely that retailers would then be able to comment on the condition of returns to determine what had or had not been worn, and even less likely that they could calculate the cost implications from this. ReBOUND believes the key to improving the state of returns fraud lies in plugging this data gap, though it seems retailers have other ideas.

ReBOUND’s survey revealed that 43% of retailers admit their returns strategy needs improvement, with 11% stating their strategy is poor and in urgent need of improvement. However, a mere 20% state investing in improving the returns experience as one of their top priorities. Rather than making a commitment to improving their returns, many retailers are taking shortcuts, with Brightpearl’s study uncovering that 55% of UK fashion and clothing retailers would consider ‘banning serial returners’, likely in an attempt to curb the fraudulent activity.

Key on stairs

The Problem With Banning Returners

Those of you that follow the retail press closely will have seen ‘The Retail Equation’ has recently hit the headlines due to a class action lawsuit which has been filed against them for preventing shoppers from making purchases. If you’re unfamiliar with The Retail Equation, they work with retailers to warn consumers when their return transactions violate store policies or mimic excessive return behaviours”.

Shoppers could find themselves banned from purchasing from participating retailers if showing unusual returns behaviour at a totally different store that also uses ‘The Retail Equation’. The issue here is that no consideration is given to why the shopper might show signs of unusual returns behaviour. Especially since the rise of ‘try before you buy’ shoppers are actively encouraged to order as much as they like and send back anything that doesn’t work for them.

What The Retail Equation fails to acknowledge is the lifetime value of a customer. Whilst they may order 10 things from you the first time round and only keep 1, with each purchase they learn more about your brand, sizing, and fit. Returns are an essential part of the buying and learning journey.

Open sign

Retailers could stand to learn a lot from Net-A-Porter, who recently announced they have launched Style Trial, an invitation-only service that allows their best customers to try before they buy. By restricting this benefit to their EIPs (Extremely Important People), Net-A-Porter can ensure their most valuable clientele are retained, without the costs of offering it to all customers spiralling out of control. Vicky Brock, Director of Data Innovation of ReBOUND says:

“An effective returns strategy requires a nuanced, data-driven approach, as this will highlight that even the majority of customers who ‘wardrobe’ still keep more than they return. By banning repeat returners, retailers risk alienating shoppers who spend far more than they claim in refunds.”

ReBOUND are encouraging retailers to learn from the mistakes being made around returns rather than blindly following the competition. In their latest eBook ‘A Guide To: Returns Fraud’ ReBOUND looks at both the retailer and shopper responses to piece together the full story when it comes to fraudulent returns. Download the eBook to discover how a data driven approach to returns is the missing key retailers are looking for.

Laura Gee, Content Marketing Executive, ReBOUND

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