60% of UK consumers will not even consider making a fashion purchase online unless they can return unwanted items without being charged. 

A survey conducted by Redshift Research for virtual fitting room supplier Fits.me found that consumers are sensitive to potential returns costs when buying clothes online. 

There are already strong arguments for offering free returns, but in the run up to Christmas this is even more important when people are buying gifts for each other. 

Free returns: the stats

The survey of 1,000 UK consumers found that: 

  • 41% buy several sizes of the same piece of clothing online to check the fit, and then send the others back.
  • Other reasons given for returning items included item not fitting (43%), the feel of the material (25%) and style (15%).
  • 12% say they never buy online due to concerns about finding the right size, while 61% are often deterred for this reason. 
  • 60% say they won’t consider buying online unless returns are free. 

Why returns should be free

It will persuade customers to make a purchase 

As the stats above show, if retailers give customers the piece of mind of knowing that they can return items without incurring extra costs, then they are much more likely to take the plunge. 

Increased customer retention

Even if customers return purchases, retailers can use this to provide a postive customer experience, one which makes it more likey that they will return to the site in future. 

Clothes are hard to buy online

While e-commerce is booming, and online fashion sales have grown rapidly, there are still barriers for fashion retailers.

It is tricky to find the right fit, especially when shopping on a site for the first time, so fashion retailers need to work hard to overcome this obstacle. Free returns is the most obvious solution. 

Returners can be your best customers

As Zappos has found, people who regularly return items can be some of your best customers. It says that clients buying its most expensive shoes have a 50% return rate. 

According to Craig Adkins of Zappos:

Our best customers have the highest returns rates,but they are also the ones that spend the most money with us and are our most profitable customers. Zappos' modus operandi is not to give its purchasers the cheapest footwear on the block, but to give them the best service: hence, a 365-day returns policy, and free two-way shipping.

Which retailers are offering free returns? 

Warehouse offers free returns, and customers can find this information on its product pages: 

What should retailers do? 

Make returns free 

If, as the stats suggest, potential customers are deterred from purchasing by returns charges, it makes sense to remove this barrier.

Of course, retailers need to balance the costs of covering returns against the sales they may be losing, but there are significant benefits in terms of increased conversions and customer retention. 

If you offer free returns, make this clear

In looking for examples from fashion retailers, I had to work quite hard on some sites to find out the costs (if any) of returns. 

Free returns, like free delivery, can be a sales driver, so it makes sense to shout about this. 

Oasis makes this clear on its product pages, but it could be even more obvious:

Offer free returns this Christmas

Even if you don't normally offer free returns, then offering this over Christmas could make a big difference. 

Shoppers will be buying gifts for people they may not see too often the rest of the year, so its likely that return costs will be a factor. 

In this example from last Christmas, Webtogs uses its 'zero hassle' returns policy as a selling point. It displays this clearly on the homepage and product pages: 


Make sizing information as clear as possible

This won't solve every problem, but providing as much information as possible about clothing, including photos and videos, will minimise returns. 

For example, Next displays continental shoe sizes, this making customers (like me) who work in UK sizes word too hard: 

Find other ways to reduce returns

Virtual fitting rooms, such as those provided by the sponsor of the survey are one way for fashion retailers to recreate some of the in-store experience online. 

Fits.me has a case study showing how it heloed one client, Hawes and Curtis, reduce returns by 35%, while increasing conversions by 57% for those customers using the virtual fitting room. 

In another example, the Shoefitr app helped an online footwear retailer to reduce fit-related returns by 23%

Include clear returns instructions in packaging

This is about not annoying customers too much. I get the sense with some retailers that they think making returns harder will reduce overall rates, and help increase profits. 

Make it easy for customers. Provide clear instructions and even include a returns envelope to make sure no mistakes are made with the return address.  

Graham Charlton

Published 31 October, 2012 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is editor in chief at SaleCycle, and former editor at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin.

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Comments (2)



Online spending is expected to grow by 12% to as much as $96 billion this holiday season, according to the latest National Retail Federation figures. The new online retail marketing package from Ebizsubmit is a completely fresh strategy which is a combination of exclusive eCommerce SEO and social media marketing services. Generally the offer covers meta-tags and search engine positing but the services provided by Ebizsubmit.com in SEO covers blog designing, classified submission and profile creation in various marketing spots.

almost 6 years ago

Carl Marsh

Carl Marsh, Director at ICEGRIPPER

In our experience people are happy to pay for the return of their product if they make a mistake and require it to be exchanged. I think that it can be quite a dangerous game for smaller businesses trying to emulate the major clothing retailer multiples by offering everything FREE. Customers have a sense of responsibility and know that they have to pay for a product to be returned, if they have not ordered the correct size..if they bought an item from a store and wanted to return it they have to walk to the store and do it...the store will not pick it up free of charge

almost 6 years ago

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