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The serial shopping returner

Having made it through the prime shopping weekend, UK retailers may not be breathing a sigh of relief just yet as the expectation is that it will cost them £362million* in returns.

We recently asked a number of retailers about increasing returns and they stated that on average up to 25% of their goods delivered during peak periods are returned. The BBC goes further than this, in an article published today*, anticipating that almost half of what consumers spend will end up being returned.

The reality is that returning items is now very much part of the shopping experience when buying online. Consumers are making purchasing decisions based on limited information about a product, and as such there is no longer any embarrassment to explain why they no longer want the item.

With this rise in returns it is unsurprising that internet retailers are finding handling returns an issue. Whilst warehouse automation has historically concentrated on order growth and fulfilment, it now has to focus on the increasing volumes and costs of returns.

One of the main reasons consumers have for returning items is that they want to view them before deciding whether or not to keep them. However, we’ve also found ineffective fulfilment processes can be to blame, such as damaged goods on arrival or incorrect orders.

Automation can help minimise these errors, ensuring the movement of goods are tracked and recorded in the putaway and picking functions of your warehouse. Similarly, internet retailers should look at whether the picking processes can be improved with the use of technology to improve accuracy.

Retailers can also make sure they have a dynamic Warehouse Management System that can understand customer orders to reduce the return rates, by analysing behaviours. Many retailers are already looking at this through personalised marketing to help consumers make better choices, through to placing bans on serial returners. Whatever the approach it is clear that retailers need to be able to handle growing return volumes and act accordingly.