North East shoppers are Britain’s worst ‘serial returners’, study reveals

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A new study from Brightpearl, released today, reveals that the North East is the worst region for ‘serial returners’, a trend that is costing retailers £7bn a year.

Brightpearl recently surveyed 2,000 consumers across the UK and found that 36% of all shoppers in the North East admit to buying multiple items with the intention of returning some – making them the worse serial returners in Britain.

According to figures from Brightpearl, the world’s largest purpose-built retail ERP platform, 40% of retailers have noticed a marked increase in serial returns over the last 12 months, and more than half of retailers (52%) are seeing their profits severely impacted by the process of managing these returns.

The North East was closely followed by Wales and then the South East (35% and 33% respectively). However, consumers from the East Midlands are most likely to keep hold of the items they’ve bought, with just 18% of shoppers in the region identifying themselves as a serial returner.

Retailers are already under intense pressure, from reduced margins to competition from online giants, and now they face another woe: the rise of the so-called ‘serial returners’, who deliberately buy more items than they intend to keep and then return them days later.

Online shopping has fuelled the rise of the serial returner, alongside generous return policies. It comes as no surprise then that E-commerce retailers are hit harder, with 30% of all products ordered online being returned[3], jumping by an extra 15% during holiday periods, including in the lead-up to bank holiday weekends. This lost revenue is worth £7bn for retailers, with sales coming in that they ultimately cannot recognise.

Lisa, 31, from Newcastle, spends upwards of £500 a month on clothes, particularly during the summer season, and returns at least half of the items. She says: “When shopping online it’s difficult to see what clothes, particularly bikinis and dresses, fit best, so it’s easier to buy several items and then just keep what you like.”

While offering free returns is resulting in a loss of revenue for retailers, many see the policy as key to their customer experience strategy. Brightpearl’s study found that 85% of consumers do expect retailers to provide returns for free.

Nevertheless, retailers are now looking at ways to tackle the growing issue of returns. Figures from the research show that over two-thirds (69%) of retailers do not use any technology to manage returns.

Brightpearl’s CEO, Derek O’Carroll, believes this is a missed opportunity. He says: “The logistical and financial implications of handling rising volumes of returns and the impact on return rates could cause significant margin erosion for online retailers, unless they have the right systems in place to optimise the returns process and meet the challenge of serial returners.

“For example, using technology to centralise your returns data is one way to quickly identify serial returners and puts retailers in the informed position to make decisions on how they can weed out these problematic shoppers.”

On the worst region for serial returners, O’Carroll adds: “While the North East tops the list with the most serial returners, it’s an emerging issue that all merchants, across the country, must look to address. Our findings show that more than half of all 18-24 year olds intentionally return items they’ve bought, and with that generation’s buying power increasing year-on-year, it’s only a matter of time before serial returner behaviour becomes the norm.”

Top 10 worst regions for serial returners

  1. North East (36%)
  2. Wales (35%)
  3. South East (33%)
  4. London (32%)
  5. North West (30%)
  6. Yorkshire & Humber (30%)
  7. East Anglia (29%)
  8. Scotland (29%)
  9. South West (28%)
  10. Northern Ireland (25%)

Those curious to find out more about Brightpearl’s study of returns should read ‘Try Before You Buy: A Returns Tsunami for Retail’. This survey questioned respondents that included a cross-section of consumers and retailers ranging from independent to enterprise level.