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Retailers Tempted to Ban Serial Returners

More than half of retail executives in the U.S., as well as their counterparts across the pond in the U.K., would consider permanently banning serial returners from shopping on their websites, according to a recent survey conducted by retail software provider Brightpearl.

The sentiment is based on the millions of dollars retailers spend handling reverse logistics each year. In 2015, online returns totaled $260 million, according to the National Retail Federation. The problem is so pervasive that an entire industry has cropped up to help stores deal with the influx of product.

More than 70 percent of respondents from companies with 250-449 employees agree with such a ban.

And the tide is already turning in that direction. Last May, Amazon took measures to protect itself from serial returners—like bloggers who regularly purchase items only to return them after a few selfies, for example—by banning certain accounts. Brightpearl says other U.S. retailers, in particular, are prepared to follow suit.

“It is retailers in the United States who are most closely aligned with Amazon’s approach, as 61 percent of U.S. retailers reveal that they would ban serial returners from their website permanently, while fewer than one-quarter are not inclined to follow this approach,” the report stated.

These wouldn’t just be simple suspensions, in many cases. A quarter of retail companies polled would advocate for lifetime bans as a necessary protection against slimming margins and growing competition.

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It is worth noting, however, that fashion and clothing retailers are somewhat more forgiving than their counterparts in other retail categories. The sectors most supportive of these types of bans were baby and toddler goods in the U.K., with 75 percent in favor, and 82 percent of U.S. toy and gift retailers. In both countries, only 55 percent of apparel stores would be on board.

According to the survey, 63 percent of apparel retailers across the U.S. and U.K. have the technology to stop these repeat offenders already. But the report authors noted executives must think strategically before barring shoppers—especially in today’s difficult retail environment.

In a report released in March, Brightpearl warned about a coming “returns tsunami” that could sink unprepared retailers. That study found that while more than half of consumers polled at the time were in favor of policies banning serial returners, a full one-third of respondents in the 18-34 age group admitted to frequent returns—suggesting the problem may only grow.

Based on that report, Brightpearl estimated it was possible for some businesses to see return costs tripling if no action were taken to curb returns.

The increasing practice of buying-trying-returning explains the growing sentiment in retail toward limiting returns, with roughly half of retailers saying their margins are being “significantly squeezed by returns,” per Brightpearl’s findings.

Both surveys were conducted with the support of OnePoll and included responses from 200 retailers in the U.S. and U.K., along with 4,000 consumers in those markets.