The big issue of free returns

Most of us are guilty of it – buying clothes online in two to three different sizes because we don’t know which one will fit, or buying multiple outfit options for one evening – because we know we can take advantage of free return policies and easily send back what we don’t want. Globally, we’re starting to see the impacts of the huge amounts of ecommerce returns; from the financial hit that companies are taking, to the environmental impacts of the returned goods that can’t be resold, and go straight to landfill. We know it’s a big problem, but what’s the solution? 

The big issue of free returns

We have free return policies of many big box ecommerce retailers like ASOS, The Iconic, and Boohoo to thank for the consumer shift online and away from retail stores, but some of these companies are now reconsidering this offering and taking a stand against free online returns, which can be two to three times higher than in physical stores, according to a 2022 report

Global consumer statistics show that clothing and apparel has the highest return rate in ecommerce at 26%, and a Shopify Fashion Industry Report reveals that this number can even get as high as 50% in some markets. 

The big issue here is that only around 50% of most returns can be resold, and what can’t be resold is typically sent to landfills, making the fashion industry the world’s second-biggest polluter. According to a recent article, in the US, 2.6m tonnes of returned goods end up in landfill every year, generating 15m tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

The move of big box retailers to scrap free returns could have a positive impact on both the environment and business financials. We know people are buying more items than they need and planning on returning at least some of them because it’s free to do so, and the rise of social media platforms like Tik Tok and Instagram have seen people spending thousands on clothing online purely to use in social content, only to be returned afterwards. With the option of free returns off the table, consumers will need to really consider whether it’s worth it for them to purchase more than they need – minimising the number of returns overall, and reducing some of the impact on the environment. 

Improving the experience for online shoppers

Whilst removing the allure of free returns is a step in the right direction to reduce the high global return rate, there’s an even more important action ecommerce retailers can take, and that’s improving the online shopping experience for consumers. People want and need to be able to shop with confidence, knowing the businesses they’re choosing to spend their hard-earned money with actually care about their online experience, and are inclusive and respectful of people of all shapes, sizes, abilities, and ethnicities. Not only will this help to reduce the amount of returns ecommerce businesses receive, it will also help to reduce ecommerce bounce rates and cart abandonment rates, and on the flipside, increase brand loyalty and sales.

We’re already seeing many online businesses overhaul their website experience; from improving website navigation and accessibility through to providing more engaging imagery, and offering different views of garments and products. This is particularly important for fashion retailers, with the increasing need for a more diverse representation available to consumers – people want to be able to see how clothing looks across different formats, skin tones, and body types. 

It’s not enough to just include generic sizing charts, because they can vary wildly across different brands. Businesses are improving their online ecommerce experience with more detailed and consistent size guides, more widely represented models, and including filtered views that allow people to see garments and accessories across a range of different models, formats and angles – including flat lay, on a ghost mannequin, and on model photography

Making sure ecommerce imagery is varied, engaging, and an accurate reflection of how it will look on an actual person means customers won’t be compelled to over purchase (knowing they can easily return products for free). People will have trust and confidence in the way those businesses are representing their products, and they can make better informed decisions when they’re online shopping. 

An excellent consumer experience, engaging brand content, and well thought out visual aesthetics are more important than ever. LookDepot’s innovative StyleShoots product and fashion photography technology will help you create professional content that will reduce the cost of online returns to your business, lift customer engagement and loyalty, and boost your sales. 

We work with brands of all sizes throughout New Zealand and now Australia; spanning fashion, homewares, FMCG, health and beauty, pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, and more. Whether you have one product or thousands, we can help you build brand visibility and awareness with our simple but cutting edge content creation technology, and run your retail stores seamlessly with our time-saving Visual Retailing Software partner, IWD. 


Contact us to learn more or book a free demo.