RETAILERS have been urged to rethink liberal returns policies amid claims that they could cost businesses billions of pounds and damage the environment.

An academic at the University of Southampton issued the warning amid estimates that returns are costing UK retailers £7billion a year.

Dr Regina Frei, associate professor of operations and supply chain management, said: “Post-Christmas returns are rife, but businesses need to make sure they are prepared as more people take advantage of liberal policies during the cost-of-living crisis.

“Firstly, we need to address why returns happen in the first place. It could be a bad fit, or a wrong colour. This can easily be fixed by more accurate sizing charts – such as including the model’s height and the size they are wearing online – staff training or up-to-date information online and in store.”

Other measures could include introducing fitting tools, encouraging customer reviews with incentives to leave them, clearly displayeing delivery estimates and removing of “damaging” policies that focus too much on easy returns rather than avoiding waste, she said.

Dr Frei said: “It’s time for retailers to rethink their liberal returns policies. They may be great news for shoppers, but they are fast becoming a huge financial liability for stores and are environmentally harmful, as many returned items cannot be resold for a variety of reasons.

“A great example of this is including free shipping with online orders when spending over a certain amount. Many people will take advantage of this offer and over-buy with the intention of returning the items, just so they don’t have to pay for delivery.

“Removing free shipping, as well as introducing a charge for returns, can act as a deterrent for those who are ordering more than they should. This will also encourage people to go in-store and try before they buy, as they will no longer have the opportunity to over-order for the sake of it.”

She said the environmental impact of increased was on the rise because of added packaging and transport. But she said retailers could move towards a more sustainable business model.

“A great example being Ikea, with its ‘circular hub’ pre-loved service, which also includes discontinued furniture, and not just items that have been returned,” she added.

Dr Frei is working with the Reverse Logistics Association, as well as ECR Retail Loss Group and retail technology provider Appriss Retail to encourage people away from the “throwaway” culture and encourage retailers to change their policies.


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