Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Black Friday 2021 return volumes are already 64% up on last year

Online UK fashion retailers and brands should anticipate a “tidal wave” of post-Black Friday returns, according to new data that found October saw 74% more items sent back than the same month last year. 

Returns platform ReBOUND, analysed returns trends across the last two years and millions of annual returns transactions. Online shopping typically sees a higher rate of return than in-store and while high streets have reopened, the sheer volume of returns due to the pandemic-induced online shopping surge remains high. Despite lockdown measures across the UK lifting earlier this year, ReBOUND has seen a 64% rise in the volume of online returns being sent back to fashion retailers, compared to 2020.

The business has now warned that a mixture of the post-COVID ecommerce surge and the traditional flurry of spontaneous Black Friday purchases risks leaving retailers with a supply chain hangover that could last through Christmas and into the New Year. 

ReBOUND found that the average online return rate – the proportion of purchases the typical shopper tends to send back – has only risen to 35%, compared to 33% pre-COVID. However, the sheer number of people shopping online now thanks to the pandemic-fuelled ecommerce surge means that the sheer volume of returns are enormous.

With pressure building due to ongoing supply chain challenges, retailers will be eager to ensure stock either stays sold or – if unwanted – makes it’s way back into availability as soon as possible in the coming weeks in order to maximise revenues during the Christmas peak sales period. A delay in processing returns before the New Year could see stock go back on sale in January at heavily discounted prices. 

However, ReBOUND’s data did display some good news in this area. ReBOUND data found that it now takes the average shopper just three days between registering their intent to return online and sending the parcel back to the retailer. Before the pandemic, the average shopper would wait nine days between registering a return online and sending the parcel back. The post-COVID ecommerce surge appears to have made shoppers far savvier about the returns process and retailers can expect stock to make its way back to them at a faster rate, boosting hopes that it can then be sold again ahead of Christmas. 

Graham Best,ReBOUND CEO, said:

“Under normal circumstances, we’d be able to predict the post-Black Friday returns volume with confidence, but the dramatic surge in ecommerce sales means that all bets are off. We can say that volumes are going to be larger than pre-COVID levels and retailers should expect a tidal wave of returns, particularly if they discount heavily over Black Friday. Retailers should be cautious about going all out with pushy marketing and deals that generate spontaneous purchases, as these are the types of transactions that often lead to higher rates of returns when consumers come to their senses. This would leave brands with a sizable number of returned seasonal goods they’d then need to sell in January. Our advice is to approach discounting cautiously, particularly as we get closer to Christmas, while ensuring your return processes are data-driven to make rapid assessments and predictions around supply chain pressure points.”