Purchases and returns, and the fraud that adds to costs

There are a few topics about online purchases and the difficulty of returns, they often are about particular purchases and are not an overall topic on the subject of online purchases, unsuitability, and return costs.

On the 12th of February 2024 in the The New Daily was an article about the fraud that is occurring with purchases and customers wishing to return items.

One of the fraud issues that are being reported on is that someone purchases the article, uses it, and then returns it as being change of mind. When the business receives the item, they cannot resell it due to obvious wear.

"The trend of shoppers buying products to abuse return policies is growing, but there are warnings all consumers could suffer as retailers look to strike back.

The warnings come as almost four out of 10 Australia-based online shoppers admitted to having abused a return policy or knowing someone who has over the previous 12 months, research by ecommerce brand management platform Loop found.

More than 20 per cent of shoppers said they had worn or used an item while planning to return it"

Around 20 - 30% of purchases were online, the article noted that about 18% of all returns were from online purchases and 14% of these online purchase returns were fraudulent (roughly 2.5% of all purchase returns). In the article it was stated that the businesses are toughening up their return policies to help combat this fraud and in some cases the cost of postage to the purchaser was increased to help cover some of this cost.

"Returns can cost retailers money, not just in the items they might have to throw away, but also potentially in shipping costs as well, especially for the companies who offer free returns.

With fraudulent returns possibly on the rise as budgets strain under the cost-of-living crisis, retailers have already begun tightening their returns policies and instituting return fees.

More than a quarter of retail businesses planned to increase the cost of delivery in 2023, according to order management and shipping software company ShipStation.

Facing increasing operating cost pressures, only 18 per cent of retailers planned no increases to the price of products, delivery or returns"

A number of points were raised about online purchases including non-uniform sizings of items with say one brand having a given measurement when selling a sizing e.g. Large and another having differing measurements for the same sizing L label. It was reported that about 79% of online shoppers had purchased multiple sizes to ensure they got the right sizing to fit them, using the “practice [is] known as “bracketing”, something 79 per cent of online shoppers in Australia said they have done at least once, Loop reported”. Now currently these returns of the sizings that didn’t fit would be classed as change of mind and may not be necessarily refunded at cost or even that return postage would be refunded.

While I agree with a retailer recovering costs of change of mind purchases, it seems unfair that a person may buy one or several items in differing sizes because one businesses actual sizes may differ from others, particularly in cases of clothes and shoes. then the return of the unused and wrong sized items may end up with the consumer suffering an added cost burden because there is no standard measurement they can rely on. I think if online sellers want to toughen up then they also all need to be uniform in the measurements/sizings they use for sales.


Return fraud is broader than the New Daily article:

There always seems to be a minority that spoils it for all others.

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I would think most businesses are not stupid. They are aware of these return scams and take measures and have terms and conditions to mitigate the loss. Some more hard-nosed than others.

To the frustration of many who genuinely have a defect with something bought in store or online and have tried to return it for a refund of money.

Plenty of posts on this site about getting refunds, many of which are change of mind in the view of the business. Buying something that does not meet expectations is not a defect.

The lack of consistent sizing is a real problem. I always go by the measurements on the chart provided by the seller rather than the useless size description e.g. “large”. I have received items that were nothing like the measurements described, and I consider this to be an ACL issue - item not as described. I don’t purchase multiple sizes but instead return incorrectly described items at the cost of the seller, and I generally will not purchase if measurements are not provided.

However, many retail websites, especially for cycling clothing, are full of reviews from customers who purchased a size without checking the actual measurements, then complain that the items didn’t fit “I take size L in [another brand] but this size L was too small for me”.

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This is not a new trend.
I worked with a lady who bought expensive dresses from the likes of Grace Bros and David Jones, wore it one night to a fancy dinner and returned it the next day. Did it all the time.
I also saw a very expensive pair of shoes returned to a high end shoe store. they had obviously been well worn but the customer claimed she only wore then once.
The internet just makes the transaction faster and less personal