UK Retail Returns Hit Record Level in 2022

  • ReBound data shows a 26% increase in returns in 2022 compared to 2021
  • Return rate 10% higher in 2022
  • 28th November busiest day for returns following Black Friday sales

UK retail returns hit record levels in 2022 as the cost-of-living crisis impacted consumer behaviour. Despite online retail purchases falling by 11.5%, returns were 26% higher than 2021, according to new data from returns specialists, ReBound.

The spike was due to consumers increasing propensity to return products, with a 10% increase in return rate as consumers tightened their belts in the face of soaring bills and economic uncertainty.

ReBound, a Reconomy Group company that helps retailers manage returns, analysed transactions dating back to 2021 finding that consumers’ impulse purchasing on Black Friday caused the largest spike in returns on 28th November. 308% more products  were returned compared to the average day in 2022, emphasising the post-purchase regret after making quick decisions.

Surprisingly, the busiest month for returns was December. Since ReBound’s inception, January has consistently been the most hectic month as unwanted gifts were returned in the new year. However, December 2022 marked the busiest month ever for returns, with this partially driven by logistical issues. Strikes inevitably delayed some presents to the point that they arrived too late for Christmas, and consumers acted quickly to send back those they didn’t need.

retail returns

Jelle Schoenmaker, Managing Director at ReBound, said:

“Factors beyond retailers’ control are combining to create a perfect storm for returns. The pandemic, imminent recession, crucial couriers and transport going on strike and the cost-of-living crisis are all snowballing into an avalanche of returns. With so many products coming back, retailers are having to consider what they do with the excess stock. Whether that is sending it to charity, recycling, re-selling or moving to another country, difficult decisions will need to be made to avoid this unplanned additional stock becoming a financially damaging burden.

“In addition to the wider factors, at the moment, consumers are only keeping what they really love. Although this has been a growing shift in consumer mindset for a number of years, with returns consistently increasing, skyrocketing household bills has turbocharged this trend.

“With returns volumes increasing, the importance of ensuring a positive experience for each customer is more critical than ever. Consumers want and need refunds quickly and are making decisions faster on what they want to keep so brands and retailers need to ensure they are monitoring why products are being returned to improve their product listings.

“Alongside the consumer experience returns volumes of this scale will have enormous environmental and economic costs. Retailers should act now, tracking returns data to understand how carbon emissions can be cut from inefficient routes and how to provide shoppers with purchases they’re more likely to keep.”