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Everything is against the consumer

by LLB Reporter
27th Nov 23 10:06 am

With many flocking to snap up a bargain in Black Friday sales over the weekend, there’s sure to be plenty of purchases lined up for return, after not quite fitting the bill.

Online shopping gives shoppers the freedom to try after they buy in the comfort of their own home, with most enjoying the ease of being able to post back their returns.

However, more and more retailers are now putting an end to their free online returns – H&M, Zara and Next to name a few – instead charging shoppers a £1.99 fee to return their unwanted items and steer them away from buying in bulk. The move, however, has been criticised by personal stylist Lindsay Edwards, who insists scrapping free returns ‘goes against the consumer’.

In an interview with CRM platform Sweep.io, Lindsay, who has a following of over 10k on Instagram, sheds light on what impact scrapping free returns will have on customers who depend on online shopping. She reveals how ‘genuine shoppers’ are punished by such a move that targets ‘serial purchasers’ and predicts that free delivery could be the next online perk to go.

While the decision nods to retailers’ drive to become more sustainable, fashion expert Lindsay argues the buck shouldn’t fall on the shopper.

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Instead, she claims brands should be ‘initiating changes’ during production and manufacturing stages in their bid to become more environmentally friendly, sharing: “It shouldn’t be put on us to take on the extra cost when we’re already in a cost-of-living crisis.”

What impact will the scrapping of free returns have on customers? 

“Many people won’t do anything with the item they’ve bought. Not everyone is going to have the time or the inclination to sell it on Vinted, or eBay. They might take it down to the charity shop, but I think many more items will end up in landfills.

Whereas, when items are returned to the shop and if they’re still in good condition, they will be sent back out onto the shop floor for another person to buy them. I don’t think it’s a good move. There will be a lot of items that will just be chucked away because people won’t be bothered enough to return them when they won’t get their full refund back.”

Do you think the cuts will change shoppers’ habits of depending on online shopping?

“Yes. Fewer people will be shopping online as more and more brands bring in the cut. It will certainly put me off shopping online knowing that if I didn’t like the item, I was going to lose money.

It feels like it’s everything against the consumer. H&M is one of those shops where sizing can really vary. With some shops, you really know what your size is, but with them, you can’t order with confidence.

It can be all over the place with sizes. People often order more than one size and return the size which isn’t quite right, and fewer people will be doing that now. I do understand if it’s a push to stop over ordering, but this will affect the people who just want to order a new dress they had their eye on. I struggle to see any real positives from this move.”

Is it from an economic or environmental benefit?

“I would imagine it’s because they are getting a huge amount of returns and they’re trying to reduce that. What they might find is that people will react to buying from them as a whole less than they did rather than deciding to go into the shop.

There is a real drive for sustainability and to be more environmentally friendly, which is great, but it doesn’t just sit at the shopper. It needs to be down to the brands to initiate changes at the starting point where they are producing and manufacturing items in a more sustainable way.

It shouldn’t be put on us to take on the extra cost when we’re already in a cost-of-living crisis. Either people will think, ‘I just won’t order online from that brand,’ which will hit H&M in the pocket – or people will carry on, but won’t bother making a return.

They will have all the best intentions of donating it to charity or selling it, but they will more than likely just throw it away – and this will have a very negative impact.”

What do you make of fast fashion?

“Fast fashion has become a real problem and as a society, we are contingent to think that whatever we have isn’t enough. With some of my clients, we will go through their wardrobes and sort out what they want to keep and decide what they no longer need.

They then get to see how much room they have and they won’t miss any of the items as they haven’t even been wearing them. So many of our clothes still have the tags on, and it’s often the case of feeling guilty about returning them.

A lot of the time, we’ve bought something with the best intentions, but when it comes to reaching for that dress, they don’t wear it because they already have two other dresses that might suit them better or might feel a bit more comfortable to wear.

People do shop with a real emotional mindset and when it comes to actually wearing something they’ve bought brand new, it doesn’t seem to be the right fit.”

Why is it that we refrain from returning clothes that aren’t right?

“A lot of the time, it will be the time constraint, and people having busy lives, so they won’t find the spare time to return their things.

Sometimes, if it’s a cheaper item, it will feel like a lot of time and energy to return it when there won’t be a lot of money going back into the bank. There is also a level of shame involved. We all know the feeling when something doesn’t fit or isn’t quite what we expected.

It can really hurt! We are all guilty of keeping something in our wardrobe when we know we will never wear it again. We sometimes find the receipt and put it in the carrier bag, and even put it in the boot of the car, but still can’t bring ourselves to accept fate and return it.

The thing is, if we’ve ordered it online, we’ve already succumbed to not having the time to buy it in person – so returning it is only going to be harder.

Who will be affected the most by the cuts?

The people who find it hard to go into the shop to buy their clothes will probably be most affected by them. It’s almost punishing a lot of genuine shoppers by trying to prevent the people who are serial purchasers – who buy so many items online at a time.

There are so many influencers that are ordering clothing hauls to show what they’ve bought online or to show different outfits for some new content – and they haven’t got the intention of keeping the items. We never see the reality of it. We never see them openly saying what they will be returning or the clothes that don’t fit.

And those who are watching their favourite Youtuber or TikToker, and absorbing this content of all these fantastic clothes, don’t see the behind-the-scenes of packing everything back up for a return. It’s likely they won’t be keeping any of it.

It’s a really good move to prevent that from happening, but it will affect the genuine people who just want to buy a nice dress for a wedding they have coming up. I wonder if H&M could almost go in the middle somewhere, where they say, ‘If you’re returning over 10 items, then there will be a charge.’”

Do you think H&M would be tempted to scrap free delivery over a certain amount? 

“Yes. It makes you think about what will happen next. It quite often flashes up with, ‘Spend an extra £2 for free delivery.’ And it is so tempting! It may not be an item you particularly wanted in the first place, but if it means you’ll get free delivery, then you think, ‘Why not?’

But perhaps, taking that away might have an impact on people buying so many items in one order. Really, the less that you order, the cheaper it should be because of lower postage costs. So, they want to prevent it on the one hand, but encourage more buying on the other.”

From your perspective as a stylist, what can you see happening with the cuts in place?

“A lot of the clients I work with and speak to do a lot of ordering online for many reasons. It could be that they don’t have the time to go to the shops, they might not live close to a shopping centre, or they don’t have the physical ability to go to a shop themselves. It’s a real shame for those people who don’t have much choice about how they get their clothes.

Shopping online could be someone’s only option. It’s very unfair because when you do buy goods online, you should have the right to return something if it’s not right. You’re basing your decision to buy something on a really small description, and you can’t always get a good idea of how something is going to look just from seeing a picture.

It’s an absolute minefield because what you see, isn’t always what the reality is when it arrives. The fit can be wrong, the material might not be very comfortable and even the colour might be completely different. Often online shops will increase the saturation of the colour on the images so it looks more appealing to the customer.”

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