Stores feel the pinch when shoppers fail to get the right size

Making returns easy has been essential to the success of online sales. Picture: PA
Making returns easy has been essential to the success of online sales. Picture: PA
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You think you’ve found the perfect outfit, only to find that you can hardly squeeze into the size you picked – or, equally annoyingly, it completely swamps your frame.'

If this sounds familiar, you’re far from alone. Shoppers’ frustrations at clothing being either too big or much smaller than they’d imagined are a major driver behind the large number of items wending their way back to shops after we’ve bought them.

It’s also causing a headache for retailers, as many of us now buy items fully intending to send at least some of them back.

According to research from Barclaycard, UK shoppers are returning around £7 billion worth of purchases every year.

A quarter (26 per cent) of retailers have seen a rise in returns in-store and online over the past two years.

The figures are particularly high among fashion, footwear and accessory retailers, as consumers increasingly change their minds after making a purchase, with nearly two-fifths (37 per cent) of these businesses reporting that refunds have risen since 2016.

Barclaycard found nearly half the amount people spend on clothes online each year, ends up being refunded.

While we splash out £313 on average on online clothes shopping each year, £146 of this is sent back.

A third (33 per cent) of shoppers say they buy clothes online expecting that items will be unsuitable before they’ve even tried them on.

Two-fifths (40 per cent) of people return clothing bought online, because items don’t fit as they expect.

Nearly one in 10 (9 per cent) shoppers have taken to buying multiple sizes of the same item and returning those that don’t fit.

Many people also see returning items as relatively easy – as well as often being free. Over half (52 per cent) of shoppers think that retailers have made the returns process more convenient.

This may partly be down to stores competing for our cash – as just over half (54 per cent) of retailers think that customers’ decisions about where to shop are now influenced by the vendor’s returns policy.

Returning so many items may be convenient – but ultimately, there’s a price to pay.

Three in 10 (29 per cent) retailers say they have increased the price of items to cover the cost of processing and managing returns, while 23 per cent have cut the length of time customers have to make a return – to give themselves a clearer idea of how much stock is on their books.

On the plus side for shoppers though, more than half (52 per cent) of retailers have introduced more information about products online to help people decide, such as exact measurements. And 48 per cent of retailers have made their returns policy more transparent, such as making it more prominent on a website.

Meanwhile, a major study into people’s changing body shapes is also under way – which should help retailers to improve sizing. The Shape GB project will measure 30,000 men and women, collecting over 100 measurements of each person.

Richard Barnes, founder of Select Research, which is managing the survey, says: “Using an app, we can now measure body shape on a huge scale, which means we can look at new ways of integrating that into the manufacturing process.”