“It only happens in the online world because if you go into a store, most people try it on,” Mr Zahra said. “But in the online world it’s significant, which is why we’re expecting in the retail industry to have record returns this year because there’s been such a shift to online trading.”
Australia Post says that online shopping grew 45 per cent in the year to November 31, with more than more than 200,000 households in the first 10 weeks of COVID-19.
A recent US survey by online retail platform Narvar found 60 per cent of online shoppers engaged in some form of bracketing, with 40 per cent of those doing so because their weight had fluctuated and they were no longer sure of their size. A third did so because they could not try things on in store due to COVID.
Mr Zahra said there was no firm local data but anecdotally major retailers were telling him it was a major issue for them this year. They had to wear the labour cost of processing returns and often the postage, while products sold at full-price before Christmas having to be discounted after they were returned.
Overall retail sales jumped 13 per cent in November compared to a year earlier, according to preliminary figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. That was driven by Victoria where sales jumped 21 per cent following the lifting of lock down restrictions.
Mr Zahra added that early reports back from retailers on Boxing Day sales so far had been strong, supporting the ARA’s forecast for online sales to offset a decline in foot traffic and industry-wide sales to grow by almost 4 per cent from last year to hit $19.5 billion.
However, Steve Kumar from consultancy Retail Oasis said the expected explosion in returns may turn out be a fizzer, given the boom in online shopping during COVID-19 was mostly driven by older people trying it for the first time.
“The one thing we do know about the older groups is they do tend to be a lot more cautious, they tend to be a lot more considered,” Mr Kumar said. “Therefore if they order something online they’re a lot more likely to check every before they order it.”
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