ReBOUND event drums up serious debate around returns

Graham Best, CEO of ReBOUND Returns is championing the issue of returns. He feels the internationalisation of reverse logistics, data-driven costing structures, and the customer proposition around returns are all worthy of more serious attention in retail board rooms and across the industry generally. Doing so will drive more professionalism and profitability, he says.

On 2nd October Best and the ReBOUND team hosted a packed event in central London, to debate and advise on all these pressing themes.

“Returns has reached a tipping point today,” he said in his introduction to the ‘Returns Revolution’ conference. “It’s a problem for retailers, but by working collaboratively with 3PLs, carriers and supply chain consultants and experts, together as an industry we can turn it into an opportunity.”


Here are some of the key insights from experts on the day:

David Clarke, Trading Director – Europe, Asos:

“We’re a business that likes to be innovative, to be brave. This is why we were the first major fashion player to begin offering free returns. We find that sales skyrocket as soon as you remove friction for customers.”

“Data plays a vital part in helping the company make these kinds of business decisions, and for constantly fine-tuning the offer.  To deliver this kind of value, data needs to be accessible to key departments.”

Neil Kuschel, CEO Europe of Global-e:

“The vast majority of returns of clothing [around 63% according to Global-e data] come about  because the sizing is wrong. That means that if you don’t make returns easy, you risk losing a lot of sales. Getting it right is about ‘how much shall I charge?’ and often where you set your free shipping level is critical. My advice is to play around with price by market, until you find the sweet spot where costs are covered but sales aren’t lost.”

Doug McGrain, Group Customer Delivery Manager, Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles:

“Returns is not a big problem for the company but we did see a marked increase in returns in Q1 2018, and felt the issued needed to be addressed before the summer and Q4 peak. We’ve undertaken a major review of the offer, costing and process across our international territories which began with an all-encompassing working group that involved everyone – IT, customer service, buying, marketing and supply chain. Changes to the returns proposition have been tailored by territory, based on careful data and cost analytics. We’ve just launched onto the ReBOUND platform to manage the international scope of returns, which will vastly improve our base costs and data efficiency. Having a centralised view of returns data for our customer services team will be a powerful tool.”

Vicky Brock, Director of Data Innovation, ReBOUND:

“A major issue is clothing items not living up to expectations. Fashion photography may succeed in generating a sale but the reality of how an individual looks in a dress or jeans may disappoint and lead to a return.  Innovators such as Amazon are turning to more realistic pictures. Certain items are notoriously difficult to get a good fit – occasion dresses being a case in point.”

“There is a lot of talk around fashion over-orders, but retailers have learnt that it can be an opportunity – the more people put in their basket the more they keep. A good returns service will help you optimise ‘the keep’ rather than ‘the sale’. You need an ‘upsell over time’ mentality, and returns are pivotal in this.”

Andy Mulcahy, Strategy and Insights Director at IMRG:

“IMRG data shows that ecommerce pure-plays with the highest Year to Date growth tend to be those offering free returns.”

“Our consumer research shows that what really is important is the clarity and accessibility of information around the returns policy. Our research suggests the best place for this is the product page. Customers don’t like to have to search the site for the details.”


Returns fraud

A fascinating panel discussion on returns fraud was led by Andrew Starkey, Head of e-Logistics at IMRG, with representatives from Feelunique, Sky and the National Business Crime Solution. Returns fraud includes ‘renting’ items, ‘wardrobing’ and ‘falsely faulty’ the experts explained, each giving insights into the latest techniques used to dissuade customers from these activities.  A particular risk is allowing returns into store, when busy, often inexperienced staff at payment desks accept goods back that may not be the original item.

Donate don’t destroy

To round off the conference, Graham Best of ReBOUND welcomed guest speaker Robin Boles who is chief executive at the charity In Kind Direct. The organisation works with brands and retailers around the world who have signed up to donate, rather than destroy surplus merchandise from their supply chains. Boles made a strong case for fashion, FMCG and general merchandise retailers taking a more responsible stance towards waste, to cut down on the shocking amount of landfill which results from unwanted products.

“Consumer sentiment is driving the growth of the ‘donate, don’t destroy’ movement,” she said. “Research shows that 90% of consumers expect companies to operate in a way that supports the community and the environment. There are many ways to work with us to put this usable product to excellent use, in ways that can directly help those in need.”

As these snippets from the event illustrate, ReBOUND’s Returns Revolution conference succeeded in drawing out discussions on how to disrupt many aspects of the retail industry’s approach to returns. Delegates certainly left better informed, with many expressing hopes for more future events of this kind.

This article was produced following the ReBOUND Returns Revolution Conference in London, October 2018. 

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