A new study reveals that over three-quarters of online clothing, footwear and accessories stores include a returns label with their deliveries, more than any other category. 

It’s easier to return goods to the UK’s online fashion stores than any other retail category, with 77% of the leading retailers providing a returns label with their goods, and 6% offering a downloadable form. However, the category fell down in terms of passing on delivery costs on to customers, with only 8% offering free shipping regardless of purchase price, worse than any other sector.

These were some of the key findings of a recent study of the UK’s 100 largest online retailers by post-purchase communications specialist parcelLab, 48 of which sold clothing, footwear and accessories.

“Ease of returning goods can help boost conversion rates, with 67% of online shoppers checking a retailer’s online returns policy before they buy, according to UPS research,” said Tobias Buxhoidt, founder and CEO of parcelLab.

“Unfortunately, however, various studies show that shipping costs are a major ‘conversion killer’, so by failing to offer free delivery, fashion retailers are damaging the great work their returns policies are doing,” said Buxhoidt. “comScore, for example, found that 61% of customers are ‘at least somewhat likely’ to cancel their purchase if free shipping is unavailable. And over a quarter of the UK’s leading online sellers in this category offered no free delivery option.”

Overall, the study found that the post-purchase experience provided by the leading 100 UK online retailers was disappointing, with only four providing customers with personalised information about the status of their orders, and 27% (14% of fashion retailers) not communicating with shoppers at all during the delivery period. Meanwhile, only 12 offer free shipping on all purchases, five of which were technology sellers.

“Providing personalised post-purchase support not only keeps customers informed and happy, building loyalty, but also provides the opportunity to share offers and suggest complementary purchases, increasing sales,” said Buxhoidt. “And when you consider that our research shows that 70-80% of personalised post-purchase messages are opened and result in 0.5-1% of customers immediately making a new purchase, it’s clear that by not doing this UK retailers are missing out on millions of pounds in potential sales every month.”

Of the 100 retailers surveyed, only 11 communicate with their customers directly during shipping. The remaining 89 either leave this to the delivery carrier or the customer receives no updates at all. This makes it impossible for retailers to offer personalised shipping information or even send out branded communication to at least boost brand awareness. parcelLab’s study also looked at delivery time choice among other factors, finding that only seven of the UK’s 100 largest retailers offered a same-day service, and when this was offered it was at a high price.

“Retailers are no longer defined by their products, but instead they are differentiated by the service they provide from initial visit right through to returns,” said Buxhoidt. “Therefore, if a retailer wants to consistently outgrow its competitors, they need to build strong customer loyalty through above average customer experiences. This is just as important after checkout as before, if not more so.”

The research involved placing orders with all 100 online shops, from beauty and household retailers like Boots and Sainsbury’s to clothing outlets like M&S and ASOS, and technology sellers like Currys PC World and Apple. The services offered before and after checkout were then documented in a full report.

Among the UK retailers highlighted in the research as offering a stand out shipping and returns service were New Look as the ‘Overall Winner’, ASOS for ‘Best Checkout Experience’, The Fragrance Shop for ‘Best Shipping Process’, Zara as ‘Best for Delivery’ and Chain Reaction Cycles for ‘Best Returns’.

The full parcelLab UK Ecommerce Shipping Study can be found here https://parcellab.com/en/uk-e-commerce-shipping-study-2019/.