E-commerce: why and how often customers send stuff back [survey]

The University of Regensburg just published a new study about the return rates of e-commerce. Return rates are a crucial ingredient of the business model of e-commerce, because they can mean the difference between profitability and loss.

What is your average return rate?

This is a weird chart, I think, because of the way it’s designed.

average return e-commerce all

I think this would be a better visualisation, though, because it shows more clearly that in general, e-commerce return rates are quite low.

Average return rate for clothing:

The picture becomes starkly different when looking at return rates for clothing, textile and shoes (again, it would be helpful if the authors would have put more thought into the visualisation. Half is between 25 and 50 %, and 25% is a sizable spread. It would have been nice to see the distribution here.

As we wrote last week, Zalando’s return rate (until last week the “best kept secret in e-commerce”) is 50 %, according to its management. That seems to be the high end, despite claims by Zalando that its return rate is not higher than average. Zappos is at around 25 % percent, according to Kathleen Fasanella, editor of trade blog fashion-incubator: “[Return rates] range from 17% to 25%. Zappos which practically begs consumers to return stuff, averages 25%.” (Quora)

 3. Why do people send stuff back? (Because they weren’t planning on byuing it in the first place)

A lot of text on this graph, so I’ll translate a bit. Circled in red here, you see a very important reason why people send stuff back: they ordered multiple articles (38 %), knowing in advance that they would send some articles back. It seems that consumers have no qualms about ordering 3 or 4 sweaters to find one in the right color and size.

This is a practice that e-commerce doesn’t mind – Outfittery sends you a box with suggestions, and you can pick and choose as you like (it’s for men only at this time). It’s calculated in. Less ethical are the 13 % people (!) who admit that they order some things from e-commerces knowing in advance that they will send it back.

Think designer dresses, shoes, accessories and jewelry that is deemed too expensive to buy, but too nice not to wear to that special party on Saturday. So buy the dress on Monday, get it by Thursday, wear it once at the party and ship it back on Monday. It’s a phenomenon that will probably cause the Samwer’s luxury e-commerce some headaches.

The two first categories are simply product related: “I send things back because I don’t like them” (59 %) and “It doesn’t fit” (52 %).


[Photo: Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, by Robert Scoble, Flickr]

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About the author

Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning Post. He is the co-founder of FINN, a corporate communications agency where he advises startups and multinationals on their PR and Mustr, the easiest media database for PR professionals. You can contact him on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).

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