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Study: Most customers bend rules for returns…here’s how

One quarter of customers intentionally take advantage of returns policies for monetary gain.

Nearly two-thirds of consumers engage in some level of deceptive behavior when it comes to returns.

That’s according to a study of U.S. and UK consumers conducted by Narvar, which found that

only 35% of consumers currently abide by all return policy rules. Sixty-percent of consumers were described as “rules bending.” These are customers who will bend the rules out of convenience or won't bother to report a mistake in their favor, such as when they receive an extra item or say they didn't receive their purchased item but find it later and don't correct the record.

In other findings, nearly 60% of those who bend the rules feel it's easier to take advantage of loopholes in returns policies online.

Retailers can prevent 85% of instances of consumers bending the rules or exploiting loopholes in returns policies by making the returns and reporting process easier and more convenient for consumers, according to the study.

In addition to the rules-bending consumers. Narvar's research revealed three other key behavioral archetypes with regard to product returns:

  • Policy Abiding: Some 35% of customers do the right thing every time with returns, even if a return is necessary due to a retailer's mistake or is a hassle for the customer.
  • Policy Abusing: One quarter (25%) of customers intentionally take advantage of returns policies for monetary gain, such as by falsely claiming an item they damaged themselves was delivered that way, falsely claiming an item is missing or damaged, or intentionally shipping back an incorrect item.

Almost 30% of consumers who admit to this behavior unfortunately engage in it more than once or twice, and most justify their actions by demonizing the business.

  • Wardrobing: Fully 25% of consumers buy items with the intention of using the items only once or twice and then returning them for a full refund.

To reduce wardrobing, Navar advised that steer customers toward legitimate rental options and clearly communicate that those who engage in the behavior may be blacklisted, which repeat offenders cite as their main concern.

"By understanding the different types of problematic behavior associated with returns—and their deterrents—retailers can more easily solve the biggest pain points in their current returns processes and personalize the experience to curb further issues," said Anisa Kumar, chief customer officer at Narvar. "By adding some additional checkpoints to the process, personalizing the experience, and offering the right loyalty incentives, retailers can prevent a significant amount of revenue loss associated with returns."

Additional findings from the study include:

• Nearly 40% of consumers surveyed say that if returns weren't such a hassle (e.g., if home pickup were offered), they would be more likely to do the right thing.

• Rule bending is more prevalent in the U.S., but U.K. consumers are more vengeful, with 31% of U.K. shoppers surveyed citing a retailer's poor service as justification for their actions versus only 23% of U.S. shoppers.

Narvar's study was fielded online in April 2022 among 2,104 consumers (1,076 in the US and 1,028 in the UK) who had returned at least one online purchase in the last six months. Participants were between the ages of 18 and 65; 60% were female and 40% male; and 50% were suburban dwellers, 30% urban dwellers and 20% rural dwellers.

[Read More: Survey: Returns cost online retailers 21% of order value]

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