The Inditex brand now charges 1.95 pounds ($2.39) for returns dropped off with a third party, though shoppers still have the options for returning items in store at no charge.
One Twitter user said, “Quality and design have declined recently so most of us regulars will be off to pastures new [sic]” in response to news of Zara’s returns fee.
Nshift, a cloud delivery management company, says retailers pay 20 pounds, or about $24, to process each return, and consumers on average return one out of every three items they purchase online, with apparel trending higher.
Zara isn’t the sector name that has started charging a fee for returns, but it might be the most recent one to do so if the new fee policy becomes the latest trend among retailers.
Uniqlo changed its its return policy on March 1, 2021. Online orders dated before then allowed for free returns. In the U.S., a $7 return label fee is charged to cover the cost of return shipping. Similarly at Next, consumers pay the shipping cost to return items to a Fort Lauderdale facility when using the service of their choice. A U.S. Postal Service Smart Label return costs $7.
In contrast, Shein allows for the first return or exchange for free, but charges $7 for returns shipping after that. It encourages customers to bundle returns “together to avoid excess shipping costs.”
And Asos said on its site that it does not refund shipping charges, which means the cost will be subtracted from the refund amount.
One industry contact said imposing a fee could be a way for some companies to retrain consumers to think carefully and sustainably about their purchases and avoid return packaging waste. Many consumers purchase several items knowing full well they’ll return most of them.
“Some customers expect free shipping, but retailers are now discovering that internet costs have become so exorbitant that they have to charge for returns,” Walter Loeb, a former retail analyst and now consultant, said. While many retailers offered free shipping during the pandemic, “we’re now past the pandemic and are at the point where investors are telling companies they have to show they can make money online,” he added.
Could other retailers jump on the return fee bandwagon? Loeb isn’t so sure, although he said retailers do need to figure out how to cut rising online costs. Some American retailers are still accepting free online returns—Nordstrom and Macy’s—although others like Talbots have been deducting return fees for years when a customer uses a Smart Label to process the return.
Meanwhile, fashionistas continue to tweet about their displeasure over the controversial new policy with one common theme emerging.
One tweeted about Zara’s “horrific and inconsistent sizing, high prices for not great quality, [and] ridiculous lines in store” on top of now having to pay for non-store returns.
Another agreed Zara should “Sort your sizes out and people won’t have to return things???” with a fellow irate customer chiming in that the chain’s “sizing is so utterly s*** that I always have to order more than one size.”
Meanwhile, one user slammed the new policy as “totally ableist,” asking, “You do realise that there are millions of disabled people who can’t shop in person right? We buy blindly online and then we can’t even return them free? This is really poor.”
Still another consumer questioned how the returns policy affects people who don’t have a Zara store nearby.
One Twitter users sees the issue from a different angle, writing, “Anyone who’s been stuck in a boiling hot Zara return queue for 40 minutes will know it’s just easier to pay the £1.95 return fee.”
Forrester Research analyst Sucharita Kodali said she’s “surprised more [retailers] haven’t switched policies,” given the rising cost to process and manage online returns.
“That is why Happy Returns exists—to help create clustered returns so the costs go down,” she said, referring to the service that allows consumers to drop off packaging-less and label-less returns at designated hubs.
“Online returns are a huge friction point for shoppers and for retailers,” Kodali added. “Everyone would like to reduce costs associated with it.”