The end of free online shopping returns

BarcelonaSummer, wedding season and occasions when (often) it’s time to dress up a little more than usual. Blanca has four until September, among her and her partner’s friends. She’s recycled dresses from other celebrations, asked friends and shopped around, but she’s also resorted to a fairly common tactic to save herself headaches: buy several models online, try them on at home, choose the final set and return the discarded ones.

This practice has a name, at least in English. It’s called bracketing and it has become a real problem for the logistics of companies that sell online, especially those in the textile sector. Faced with doubts about a specific product, consumers have become accustomed to the ease of being able to buy the same piece of clothing in several sizes and colors to decide later, from the comfort of their homes, which suits them best and return the rest The pandemic, which has benefited online shopping, has boosted these behaviors even more. In most cases, reverse logistics to refund failed purchases is still free, but this trend has been changing for some time.

One of the fashion giants that has started charging for online returns is Inditex. At the moment he is testing it with his flagship brand Zara and in around thirty markets, among which there is no Spain, but the United Kingdom, France or Germany. Customers who buy clothes in the online store and want to return them will have to pay a surcharge of 1.95 euros which will be deducted from the price of the item. This charge, however, only applies when the purchase has to be picked up at the buyer’s home or at a collection point. Making a return in a physical establishment in person is still free. “The reason is to seek greater efficiency in income and sustainability. The answer is positive, there is no impact on sales. There are more returns to the store”, explained Marcos López, Director of Inditex’s Capital Markets, in front of analysts in the group’s latest results presentation.

For Esade business school professor and logistics expert Jaume Hugas, Inditex charging for returns is a “mistake”. “The experience should be as similar as possible to the physical store, and this also means that returning a piece of clothing is free,” he points out. In his opinion, the savings in distribution costs do not compensate for the impact on consumer loyalty that this decision may bring. According to data from the Cetelem Observatory of e-commerce in 2021, 36% of online shoppers had to make a return last year, a percentage that rises to 54% in the case of the fashion sector.

Another report, in this case by the CBRE consultancy and drawn up with data from 2019, estimates that returns that cannot subsequently be resold at a discount mean for businesses around a 4.4% reduction in their income. While returning products at zero cost remains the standard policy, the firm notes that some chains have begun offering customers a lower price for an item if they waive their right to return.

Formulas to save costs

Like Inditex, the El Corte Inglés department store has also put a price on cases where the company collects returned packages. If the Celeritas group is in charge, the cost is 2 euros, but if the customer goes to the store, there is no need to pay. Who has gone a step further in this policy that suggests the end of free returns is the Japanese Uniqlo. The fashion chain does not allow online purchases to be returned to stores: it must be done by post, the company does not cover the cost of transport and they charge 2.95 euros per order, unless it is a defective product .

On the other hand, another of Inditex’s major competitors, H&M, maintains a free policy, as long as the order has been made with an account registered on its website. If you do it as a guest, the return costs 1.95 euros. The Catalan firm Mango has also not considered charging customers for this service and is giving them 60 days to rethink their purchase decision. Desigual follows the same formula, but with a deadline of 30 days.

Shein, the new Chinese empire of fast fashion and which has been criticized for promoting unbridled consumerism with its promotions, opts for another route. The company allows one item to be returned free of charge from each order, but the following ones have a cost of 4.5 euros for each item, which is subtracted from the refund. Still, shoppers on the portal have found another way to save themselves the return process: Second-hand clothing apps like Vinted are full of unbranded Shein clothing that their owners never got around to returning.

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