Can free returns drive sales?

Give your online business an edge with a pain free policy on return items

Britain has become a nation of online shoppers. In 2018, the average Brit spent £76 on online shopping per month*.

However, with greater amounts spent online, the issue of return items is one that can’t be ignored. In fact, research shows that the average online shopper returns one item per month**.

So, with customers looking for reasons to shop on a particular site, it’s crucial to get your returns policy right.

That’s especially true for certain types of online business. Over half of clothing (53%) bought online is returned because it didn’t fit or was the wrong size**.  But it’s not just clothes that have high rates of returns. Almost half of shoppers (42%) that buy electrical goods also make a return**. The most common reasons being that the item was faulty or arrived damaged.

3 in 4 shoppers

who bought clothing have made a return in a 3 month period

Delivery Matters Returns 2018, Trinity McQueen
Woman returning a parcel

Free returns are a statement of confidence

Laura Morroll, Managing Consultant of LCP Consulting says: “Customer research carried out has revealed that the offer of free returns is perceived by customers as a statement of confidence in the brand. There is something reassuring about shopping with an online store that is sure enough about the quality of its products that it is happy to offer returns for free.”

One of the clear reasons that shopping baskets get abandoned is because of a lack of confidence in the returns policy. In fact, over half (52%) of shoppers would be unlikely to shop with a retailer again if they charged for returns. That’s increased from 42% in 2017**. Plus, as shoppers get more used to free returns, the number expecting them is only likely to grow.

The benefits seem obvious. If you can offer free returns, it’s likely your customers will show their confidence with loyalty and regular ordering.

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of shoppers unlikely to use an online retailer again if they’re charged for returns.

Delivery Matters Returns 2018, Trinity McQueen

Free returns drive sales

You can use free returns as a powerful marketing tool when targeting particular groups of consumers. Retailers like ASOS and Schuh are now offering customers the chance to try before you buy. This offers customers convenience and flexibility. Plus, allowing them to try on different sizes with no financial penalty also recreates a little of the in-store shopping experience in the comfort of their own home.  

You can also use free returns to build loyalty. As Katy Phillips, e-Commerce Editor at idealo UK, says: “Retailers are certainly keen on enhancing their management of customer loyalty, and benefits such as free returns clearly play their role here. If a customer knows they have the reliable fall-back of posting back an unsuitable item at no cost to themselves then they are more likely to return to the shop and place the order in the first place. However, as well as customer loyalty, I believe that free returns and similar features are just as important in marketing and the acquisition of new customers.”

Simply by moving to free returns as part of your business offering, you could punch well above your weight in the online shopping market. Removing the cost barrier when your customers make purchases is a powerful marketing message that won’t go unnoticed by online shoppers.

Free returns can set you apart

Now could be the ideal time to revisit your returns policy. Here are a few recommendations to create one that helps your business stand out.

  1. Make your returns policy totally clear. Confusion will inevitably lead to abandoned orders.
  2. Free returns will remove the last stress point that your customers feel when placing their online orders.
  3. Personalise your returns policy and systems. Your customers want to know that you care about ensuring their returns are handled efficiently.
  4. Multi-channel returning is expected by customers. Offering more returns options is vital to reassure customers looking to buy.
  5. Extend the returns period above and beyond what your business is legally obliged to offer. This shows your business is confident about its products.
  6. Do your research. Talk to customers who have returned goods and ask them about their experiences using your returns system.
  7. Partner with a trusted delivery provider that can deliver on the promises you make for returning items. Research found 48% of shoppers would trust Royal Mail more than any other returns provider**.
  8. Stay in touch with customers throughout the returns process. This is a positive way your business can show it takes returns seriously. Your customers will react with many return visits to your store.

*Delivery Matters UK 2018, Trinity McQueen

** Delivery Matters Returns 2018, Trinity McQueen


of shoppers (increasing to 47% among 18-34s) think they would purchase more items if a 'try before you buy' option was available

Source: Royal Mail Delivery Matters 2019
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