March 10, 2009, 12:00 AM

U.K. online retailers putting obstacles in the way of returns, study says

E-commerce consultants Snow Valley placed 99 orders on U.K. web sites, then tried to return each item by mail, to a store, or by courier. In two cases, returns were outright refused and in five cases the process was so cumbersome, researchers gave up.

Katie Evans

Managing Editor, International Research

Some U.K. online retailers are making returns of purchases almost impossible, says a new report from e-commerce consultants Snow Valley. Snow Valley placed 99 orders on UK retail web sites, then tried to return each item by mail, to a store, or by courier.

In two cases, return attempts were outright refused and in five cases the process was so cumbersome, researchers gave up.

Snow Valley reports that only 60% of retailers with stores allowed goods to be taken back to a store, and two of the 16 store returns were refused.

“For the first time in four years, we actually failed to return some of the items – five of the electrical retailers just made it so difficult we had to give up,” says Sarah Clelland, marketing manager. “No information was enclosed with the order and then the customer hotlines were constantly engaged until the seven-day deadline had passed and it was too late. It does make you wonder whether this kind of experience has an impact on the consumer’s willingness to shop online in future.”

Snow Valley also reported:
• 55% of retailers gave no choice of returns methods,
• Return by mail is decreasing – 80% of retailers offered mail as a returns method, down from 88% in 2007,
• 45% of retailers covered the cost of the return, although this depended on sector – 68% of clothing retailers did so, compared to 5% of electronics retailers,
• Information was often hard to find – 26% of retailers didn’t enclose returns instructions with the goods. Only 45% had a link on their home page containing the word “return’.”

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