• PRINITHA GOVENDER

Do You Really Want to Return That Item?

Updated: Dec 5, 2018

Some retailers say they are ready to ban customers who abuse its returns policies and repeatedly return online orders.

It’s a fine line to tread as retailers aim to please its customers while also battling costly returns. Returns have increasingly become a common pain point in the age of online shopping, especially where free shipping is offered, but it looks like retailers are ready to fight back.

As the rate of e-commerce continues to grow, so too does the instance of online returns and those that abuse free returns policies.

Ever bought an item online and then returned it? Of course, who hasn’t? Without the ability to try on products or inspect them in person, it makes sense for online retailers to offer customers hassle-free returns. But, are you one of those shoppers who buys items online with the intention of returning them? I mean, who cares, right? No loss to you given the shipping was free and the return is free as well. Well, you may want to think again. If you're guilty of doing this repeatedly, it's possible that retailers could permanently ban you from shopping on their websites in the future. While that may sound rather harsh, it could be necessary if this type of behaviour among online shoppers continues to rise, putting enormous costs on the retailer.

Some retailers are ready to ban serial returners who abuse the system.

As the rate of e-commerce continues to grow, so too does the instance of online returns and those that abuse free returns policies. According to a new report released on Thursday by retail software firm Brightpearl, retailers in the US and UK say it is becoming increasingly common for customers to abuse its free returns policies, often ordering more items than they actually intend to keep.


But, retailers are ready to fight back. More than 60% of US retail executives and 45% of UK retail executives (of the combined 200 total of execs who took part in the study) say they are ready to ban serial returners who abuse the system, from shopping on their online stores permanently.

Thirty percent of online shoppers say they have bought extra items online with the intention to return a few.

This follows data from the same report which indicates that 42% of US retailers and a third of UK retailers have seen an increase in online returns from the same customers in the past 12 months. The study also surveyed 4,000 online shoppers in both those countries and found that over 30% of shoppers aged between 18 and 34 confessed to having bought extra items online with the intention to return a few.


“Serial returners are a growing problem for retailers, damaging their already tight margins,” the report says. It’s clear from the study that retailers are looking for solutions around customers that are costly serial returners, with a lifetime ban from shopping on its website being one way to fix it.


Even e-commerce giant Amazon has its limitations. In May this year, the Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon banned certain customers from its site for making too many returns, sometimes without even telling it what they did wrong.


“We want everyone to be able to use Amazon, but there are rare occasions where someone abuses our service over an extended period of time,” Amazon told WSJ in May. “We never take these decisions lightly, but with over 300 million customers around the world, we take action when appropriate to protect the experience for all our customers.”

It’s a juggling act for retailers who want to continue to please shoppers while keeping operations cost-effective.

Regardless of whether online or in-store, returns are a continuous pain point for retailers. According to a study from Shopify released two weeks ago, 10%t of purchases at physical stores are returned, which climbs to 20% for online stores and 30% during the e-commerce holiday shopping period.


Again, it’s a juggling act for retailers who want to continue to please shoppers while keeping operations cost-effective. I think a ban on serial returners may not be a bad idea, given it wouldn’t apply to those customers that don’t do that. I think for shoppers, it’s important to be considerate of the impact of buying extra items online that you don’t actually intend to keep. This not only causes an increase in shipping costs for the retailer, which may or may not trickle down to the customer eventually in some way; each extra item delivered and then returned also causes an environmental footprint and all those serial returns adds up to be quite an enormous footprint. Something to think about.


While Amazon’s decision may empower other retailers to follow suit, it will still be interesting to see how shoppers will react to the possibility of a permanent ban for returning too many items. What are you thoughts on this? Please leave a comment below if you’d like to share.


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