Lessons for online retailers on developing their parcel returns policy

May 2019


With the continuing fast pace growth of online retailing Whistl wanted to find out what UK consumers are looking for in a ‘good returns policy’ as it becomes an increasing influencing factor in consumers online purchasing decisions.

Whistl conducted a comprehensive survey with UK online consumers and found 61% of those sampled considered ‘free returns (with pre-paid postage)’ to be most important feature in a good returns policy, ranking higher than ‘quick refunds' (50%) and ‘pre-printed returns labels’ (30%). Those looking for free returns were mostly female in the 55-75 age bracket and 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 receiving a lower income (under £10K) considering this the most crucial factor in a returns policy. As well as quick refunds, this demographic 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 significantly less essential and preferring a simple and easy returns process instead. Overall quick refunds are still the second most desired feature in a good returns policy.

These findings were tested with UK consumers to understand the impact on retailers of not providing a returns policy that meets the expectations of potential customers and their willingness to shop with that retailer.

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.

In a surprising find, the older demographic tends to expect free returns and a returns process that is easy to understand if their expectations are to be met. Whilst the younger respondents value a longer returns period and easy to print labels, not necessarily expecting free returns.

Within the sample ‘reusable packaging for returns’ and ‘the option to exchange items’ were deemed less important, and only 17% of the total sample would return an item and expect a replacement to be sent out without the need to reorder.

So, 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 demographic whether its age or income.  If the audience is diverse and complex, consider working with a partner that can provide a multi-option returns policy that can satisfy the needs of all your potential customers.  If you would like more advice on how to develop the right returns policy for your online enterprise, contact Whistl.

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