Lead Forensics

More online fashion retailers are charging for returns

H&M has joined an increasing number of online clothing retailers that are now charging customers for returning items, which was previously a free service.

While this may not be welcome news for shoppers, it does address environmental concerns.

Fashion brands with physical retail locations may still offer free returns in their stores, but may require payment for other return channels. For instance, Joules allows anyone to return an item at no cost to one of its shops, but charges £2.50 if the item is returned through a parcel courier service or Royal Mail.

Supporters of charging for returns argue that there is not just a cost issue that affects retailers’ profits, but also an environmental one. A dress might travel by rail, road, sea or air from the manufacturing factory overseas to the garment warehouse. There, it will wait on heavy duty garment rails, before embarking on another journey from the warehouse to reach its destination at the customer’s home.

All these journeys have an environmental cost associated with carbon emissions. Returning an item involves even more transportation, and many returned items end up in landfill, which is yet another environmental concern.

Free returns can encourage customers to view their homes as dressing rooms and order multiple garments to try on, knowing they can easily return them later. Charging for returns discourages such practices. Offering more detailed and accurate descriptions of each clothing item could also help reduce returns, as customers have a better idea of what they are getting.

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