Retailers warned to prepare for ‘Serial Returners’ this Black Friday

As Black Friday approaches and retailers gear up to welcome an influx of shoppers – both to their high street stores and their websites – Barclaycard is warning merchants to prepare for an increase in customer returns from ‘Serial Returners’ – shoppers who deliberately over-purchase and return unwanted items.

Barclaycard Spend data shows that online spending rocketed 15.1 per cent on Black Friday last year compared to the same time in 2014, demonstrating how lucrative this busy spending period is for retailers. This year we’re set to see another wave of activity on the digital high street, as four in 10 consumers who plan to shop on Black Friday say they will do so online. However, as shoppers prepare to splash the cash during the seasonal sales, the offshoot is that many of the items bought could also be returned.

The impact of the Serial Returners – the ‘buy to return’ shoppers – on retailers

  • Three in 10 shoppers (30 per cent) class themselves as Serial Returners and one in five shoppers (19 per cent) order multiple versions of the same item to make up their mind at home.
  • Yet with Serial Returners likely to take advantage of low prices and impulse buy items before later deciding what to keep, retailers need to be prepared to manage ‘buy to return’ habits this sales season.
  • Those that don’t risk losing out financially while also being left with stock they can’t sell as nearly six in ten retailers (57 per cent) say that dealing with Serial Returners has a negative impact on the day-to-day running of their business.
  • Online retailers are the hardest hit by Serial Returner activity, with three in ten (30 per cent) claiming that managing the returns process has an impact on their profit margin. A fifth (22 per cent) have even introduced a new system to cope with stock they cannot sell.
  • This is resulting in stockrooms filling with unsellable items, including products which have clearly been used (48 per cent of unfit items returned), are marked (29 per cent) or have parts missing (28 per cent).
  • However, the majority (89 per cent) of retailers acknowledge that a good returns policy is important to their customers. As a result merchants are stuck between accommodating shoppers’ demands and balancing their bottom line, with almost six in 10 (57 per cent) giving refunds regardless of product condition to maintain a positive relationship with customers.

Sharon Manikon, Director of Customer Solutions at Barclaycard, offers the following advice to help merchants prepare for Black Friday returns:

“More than any other time of the year, retailers need to be prepared for high volumes of both purchases and returns during Black Friday. While seasonal discounts provide an opportunity to entice customers with reductions and offers, as our research shows, the draw of a bargain is likely to encourage shoppers to impulse-buy in bulk and later return the items they decide not to keep.

“To capitalise on Black Friday and stand out from the competition, retailers need to not only focus on drawing consumers in with seasonal bargains, but also ensure that they have a clear and flexible returns policy. Those that balance these competing demands will be able to meet customer expectations without impacting their own bottom line.”