Consumers are in mourning as the imminent death of the free return looms on the virtual high street. In anger, they are threatening to return to the high street! As I listened to the vox pop interviews of young millennials up in arms that their binge buying habits were about to be curbed as brands such as Zara announced the ending of free returns, I couldn’t help but feel the planet sigh with relief. And the high street quaked in anticipation that its execution might just have been postponed.
Did you know that typically 60% of fast fashion is returned? Shoppers have filled their virtual baskets to the brim and checkout with the full expectation that the majority, if not all of their purchases, would be returned for free. Some have had the audacity to wear once and return without payment, others have created Instagram catwalks with selfies parading the clothes that they have no intention of buying to gain coveted likes and fake admiration at the expense of the retailer.
The impact is felt far beyond the profit and loss sheets of retailers; the environmental impact is enormous. Returned clothing not only racks up the product miles but also has to be cleaned and repackaged. That’s more water, chemicals, fuel and plastic waste. Free is never free when it comes to the planet!
Primark recently launched its new website but will not allow customers to buy clothes online. Can you blame them? Imagine how large the returns would be!
Boohoo, the online fashion retailer, has reported a collapse in profits as it was hit by higher product returns and a surge in costs. Freight and logistics inflation is quoted as a prime factor.
So is the death of the free return a disaster or a blessing? We believe it is a blessing that consumers should welcome. Like the sugar tax, it will change consumer behaviour and, just maybe, make those virtual shopping purchases more considered. It also gives a glimmer of hope in fitting rooms of the high street retailer! Will they become the new backdrop for the Instagram catwalk selfies? Perhaps the next high street campaign should be ‘FREE RETURNS HERE’. Then at least the garments can go straight back on the shop floor, thanks to the humble sales assistant, instead of back on another delivery van to the warehouse!