As a consumer, how many times have you ordered an item of clothing online for it to arrive ill-fitting? So, in order to combat this you order two sizes. Or perhaps you thought the sizing was right, but the level of quality was not what you were expecting?

Returns are a reoccurring theme in today’s retailing experience, especially now that fast fashion and global e-commerce has become so prominent. We are at a stage where consumers now expect that they will probably have to return products, which is not only costly for the retailer but can also lead to an unhappy customer experience, tarnishing a brands reputation.

Research by Barclaycard shows that UK shoppers are returning £7 billion of purchases each year, creating a ‘phantom economy’ of lost revenue for retailers. Additionally, a survey of 2,000 British shoppers also showed that we spend, on average, £313 per year on online shopping, but we expect to return just under half of this. And with 40% of consumers citing the main reason for returns is due to poor fitting clothes, it is evident that consumers are continuing to find that their orders are bigger or smaller than the label indicates, or the quality of products aren’t quite to the standards that consumers expect.

Retailers have reacted to this trend by creating easy, usually free, returns policies. While these are great for consumers and customer satisfaction, they can create a loss for the retailer as they will be required to reprocess any returned stock. This loss then often leads to an increase in the price of products.

‘Sustainability’ is another area of worry when it comes to the returns culture. From a transportation perspective, a retailer’s carbon footprint will increase as their products will not only need to be sent directly to the consumer but also now need to be returned to the warehouse. There is also the risk of excess plastic packaging being used throughout the distribution and returns process.

Undoubtedly, creating an easy returns policy is an excellent idea in retail but it can be a mask that doesn’t actually address the fundamental, underlying issue around quality. To create a strong and successful brand, consumers are looking for retailers to focus on having tighter control on the quality of their goods. When shopping online and choosing a retailer, having the reassurance from a brand that their products are of a high quality and well-sized, will far outweigh a brand with a free returns policy.

To move forward and tackle the quality issue, retailers need to take control. By investing in the right technology they can more effectively manage quality checks at all stages throughout the supply chain; from origin to shipment, hubs to destination DC, putting the power back into the retailer’s hands. Having a single repository for quality checks and results will not only enhance the retailer’s visibility of their quality control process, but will also improve the quality of their products consistently. This is key for retailers, ensuring that they’re able to deliver incremental environmental improvements and reduce the impact of product returns on the whole supply chain. Only those retailers that manage their entire supply chain will be able to guarantee the quality of their products, their ethical and sustainable initiatives, and ultimately build better relationships with their customers.