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UK’s Royal Mail Attributes 80 Percent Rise in Returns to Try-Before-You-Buy and Subscriptions

Royal Mail’s anticipated 80 percent rise in post-holiday returns on the first business day of the new year is due in part to the subscription craze and try-before-you-buy services, the organization said Wednesday.

The mail service, which has operated in the United Kingdom for more than half a millennium, released its anticipatory numbers for returns, basing its findings on the company’s “Delivery Matters” annual study that found that the average UK consumer returns an online purchase about once per month.

That number is expected to nearly double in 2019, thanks to the growing prevalence of new business models like subscription boxes and e-commerce services that let consumers pick several items of clothing and model them in their homes before being charged for whatever they want to keep.

“With 17 percent of global retailers already adopting a try-before-you-buy, model, it’s important to consider putting try-before-you-buy at the heart of your returns offering–and staying one step ahead of your competitors when it comes to customer satisfaction,” Royal Mail said in an accompanying statement.

The Royal Mail study was conducted by a third party and surveyed 1,500 UK online Christmas shoppers last February. It also found that shoppers return apparel at a higher rate than any other category, with 75 percent of those polled answering that they have returned clothing over the past year. Electronics came in second at 42 percent and computer software at 33 percent.

Over half of those who did return clothing or footwear, 53 percent, said they did so because of sizing issues. In order to combat this issue, clothing retailers in the UK have begun to implement “try-before-you-buy” in a big way. About one-third of respondents reported using the service, with 49 percent of 18-34-year-old shoppers answering that they would be likely to use the service if it was available.

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Not only that, but the Royal Mail also reports that 40 percent of all shoppers surveyed said they would be more likely to purchase more products if try-before-you-buy was an option.

“January is the busiest time of year for returns. Having an easy way to return online purchases is a crucial part of the online shopping experience. For retailers, ensuring their returns experience is in line with consumers’ expectations is incredibly important,” the postal service concluded.

Additionally, the survey helped to pinpoint the types of products that consumers in the UK would be more likely to buy if they were offered the chance to try it first. Clothing topped the list at 52 percent, followed by footwear and electronics at 39 percent apiece.

However, even the try-before-you-buy model has begun to show some inefficiencies, thanks to the influence of social media. Nine percent of British consumers admit to purchasing a product simply to post a selfie, fully intending on returning the product from the start.

Overall, the younger the shopper, the more likely she will have returned an item during the holiday season, according to Royal Mail. The survey found that 13 percent of shoppers in the below 55 age range returned items last Christmas, while those that were older returned at a rate of just 6 percent. Women, at 11 percent, were more likely to return products than men, at 7 percent.

The study also found that women were more likely to return an item that was less than they expected, while men were more likely to return an item for being incompatible or not useful.

Returns are an important issue for retailers in the U.S., as well. Amazon Prime began offering a try-before-you-buy service in 2018, as did H&M. However, a recent study found American retailers anticipating an estimated $1.39 billion worth of clothing returns during the 2018 holiday season.