By Noor Nanji
Business reporter, BBC News
Fashion giant H&M has become the latest retailer to charge shoppers who return items bought online.
Customers now must pay £1.99 to return parcels either in store or online, with the cost taken from their refund. However, returns are still free for H&M members.
Rival retailers such as Zara, Boohoo, Uniqlo and Next already charge for online returns.
An H&M spokesperson told the BBC the move was introduced in the summer.
Online shopping rose strongly during the pandemic, but this has also meant a big increase in the number of items being sent back because they do not fit, or are not as expected.
Returns can be a headache for retailers, because not only do they often cover the costs of online returns as a way of winning customers from rivals, but it also takes longer for warehouse staff to process returned stock.
Analysts said other retailers were likely to follow H&M in charging for returns.
“It’s interesting that companies seem to be doing it by stealth, but it’s a sensible thing to be doing,” said retail expert Jonathan De Mello.
“It makes economic sense, as it discourages shoppers from bulk buying online products and then returning the majority of them. That’s been a real problem for companies.”
He said that while some customers might react negatively, most would understand the need for companies to make this decision.
Many shoppers are also becoming more aware of the environmental impact of deliveries and returns. Fewer postal returns means fewer delivery vehicles travelling up and down with parcels.
But Mr De Mello warned that it might spark a backlash among some groups of people, such as those with disabilities, who rely on online shopping.
Your consumer rights
- You are entitled to a refund within 30 days of the sale if goods are faulty and bought from a UK-based retailer
- Shops are not forced to exchange goods if you have simply changed your mind, unless you bought them online in which case you have the right to return them within 14 days
- In most cases, goods bought online have extra protection
- You can find more information on your consumer rights here.
On H&M’s website, it tells shoppers they will not be charged the £1.99 fee if items are determined to be faulty or incorrect. It urged customers to make sure to note that information when registering their returns.
It also says its members can continue to make returns for free.
Mr De Mello said that reflects a wider trend in retailing towards loyalty schemes.
“Particularly in the cost of living crisis, retailers need to work harder to retain customers, as people are keen to shop around for the best deals,” he said.
“Loyalty is fickle, but if you can provide clear incentives, such as free returns, then you’re more likely to retain your customers.”
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