Free delivery does not increase parcel return volume

May 2019


60% of customers do not pay for delivery and do not want to pay for returns

Retailers providing free delivery for online purchases do not seem to experience an increase in the number of items returned according to a UK wide study of online shopping behaviour by Whistl, the leading delivery management company.

60% of respondents did not pay for delivery and despite clothing, shoes and electronic equipment purchases being returned at a higher return rate than all other category purchases, this was not due to free delivery.

Items most likely to be returned Items least likely to be returned
1. Clothes / shoes Books
2. PC/ Phone/ Camera/ Electronics equipment Pet products
3. Home & kitchen appliances Video games

The research found that 18-24 year old consumers are more likely to check the returns policy prior to purchasing items for the garden or outdoors, car accessories and DIY. Policies were checked after purchase for kitchenware, furniture, children and baby items.  Likewise, gift return policies are viewed the most post-delivery when someone is looking to return an item.  Buyers of pet products, books, and printer cartridges are the least likely to look at a returns policy, items which could be classified as disposable.

Most likely to check the returns policy

Before purchase After purchase When received When returned Never
Garden and outdoors Kitchenware Gifts Gifts Pet
Car accessories Furniture Hobbies Children/Baby Books
DIY Children/Baby Electronic equip Pet CD/DVDs

Whistl also asked UK consumers what they are looking for in a ‘good returns policy’ as it is an increasingly influential factor when consumers are buying online.

The three most important elements of a ‘good returns policy’ are:

Items most likely to be returned
1. Free returns with prepaid postage
2. Quick refunds
3. Pre-printed return labels

Those looking for free returns were mostly female in the 55-75 age bracket or were living in the South-East of the UK.

Although free returns appeared to be the most popular feature of a good returns policy, the research found that half of UK consumers would expect quick refunds to be implemented too; with those on lower incomes (under £10K) considering this the most crucial factor in a returns policy. As well as quick refunds, this group also values pre-printed labels and reusable packaging much more than any other income group.

Quick refunds are deemed marginally less important as income and salaries increase; with those earning £60k+ considering it as not essential and preferring a simple and easy returns process instead. Overall however quick refunds are still the second most desired feature in a good returns policy.

53% of those sampled stated that if a ‘returns policy did not meet expectations, it would make them much less likely to use that retailer’. Within this 53%, female shoppers were more likely to be deterred than men, and older shoppers’ more than younger ones.

Melanie Darvall, Director Marketing & Communications, Whistl, said:

"The key lesson for retailers when considering their online returns policy is to know your audience; provide a service that meets the needs of your target customer. whatever the age or income profile.  If your target audience is diverse and complex then consider working with a partner that can provide a multi-option returns policy that can satisfy the needs of all your potential customers."

Here is more advice on how to develop the right returns policy for your online business.

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