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Meet the UK’s new breed of consumers: Return addicts, swap shoppers and bargain hunters

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ComScore research revealed that 86 per cent of consumers are satisfied with the overall experience of shopping online. However, retailers still have a significant opportunity to improve customer satisfaction and their competitive position by making the process of returning or exchanging items easier. 

Reasons for returning products can vary, but what about the more chronic group of shoppers who just can’t seem to hang onto their purchases? This is a new area of compulsive shopping that we’re starting to see.

Danielle Pinnington, managing director at Shoppercentric, said: “Some 78 per cent of shoppers have been adversely affected by the current economic environment, whether as a result of falling income or higher household costs. And it’s not just the less affluent who are experiencing this. As a result discounters are attracting a whole new customer base. But do we expect this to change when shoppers have more to spend? We doubt it, shoppers appear to have changed their spending habits for good.”

In it’s latest research, Royal Mail suggested that free returns are a key factor for shoppers, with 73 per cent of respondents having admitted that they would expect free returns as standard, while a further 34 per cent would be unlikely to use an online retailer again if they were charged to send unwanted items back.

Returns addicts love sampling all that online shopping has to offer, safe in the knowledge that they can return products if they are not quite right. Women over 55 living in rural locations are the masters of the return with 76 per cent saying that they recently returned personal purchases.

Bonnie Estridge’s 2013 article explained the reason she became “a shopping bulimic” was to “get refunds afterwards”.

“We shopping bulimics are all the same under the skin,” she said. “Purchases are our ‘food’. The splurge – or buy – gives us the fun and the high, while the purge – or return – gives us the rush and the thrill. For me, seeing money restored to my account is more exciting than the purchase itself.

“I’ve tried hard to work out why I do this. I’m not anxious, guilt-ridden or depressed, but I am a control freak about my money. I hate having an empty bank account – it makes me feel panicky and deprived and, although this sounds completely mad, when my money is refunded I feel as if I’m being paid.”

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But this isn’t the only breed of shopper to have recently emerged. Excited at the prospect of trying before they buy, duplicate dealers like to make sure that they have exactly the right size of clothing. Some 11 per cent of Brits choose to buy more than one size of a single item. Women have the biggest online baskets with people in the Midlands proving to be the most frequent collector of multi sized clothing.

This is a “symptom” that comes hand-in-hand with the returns process. 

Estridge said: “My most recent binge? Four pairs of skinny jeans, the same make, colour and size, all bought at different branches of Uniqlo. I get a rush from shopping this way and I’m fussy about the ankle of skinny jeans (even ‘identical’ pairs differ slightly), so I buy in bulk to compare at leisure in the comfort of my own home. Then I return the imperfect pairs and, most importantly, get my money back.”

Let’s also not forget the bargain hunter. These shoppers know how to sniff out a deal, whether it is returns or buy one gets one free. Young city dwellers aged from 18 to 34 are the biggest deal hunters, according to Royal Mail, with six per cent saying they continue to look for a better price even after their purchase has arrived.

It is not just young people keeping their eyes peeled for a deal though. Over 55s have clear expectations when it comes to returns, with 42 per cent claiming they would not use an online retailer again if they were charged to send unwanted items back.

Perhaps the most noteworthy finding in the Shoppercentric survey is that standards have risen when it comes to a bargain.

This increase in deal-driven shopping highlights how aware Brits have become of money and product pricing than they used to be. In fact, 77 per cent admit to this.

Possibly another factor is the increase and popularity in discount stores. Consumers claimed that customer experience and “general ambience” in these shops often surpassed bigger stores. 

Swap shopping has also been on the rise. Such shoppers use online returns to change unwanted gifts – for themselves or on behalf of others. Gender plays no part in this behaviour type with both men and women saying that they have sent back a present that was purchased online. 

It further offers an opportunity for people with limited incomes to trade items for something that they need. Swapping has become common when it comes to clothes, but also increasingly as a business model.

“There’s been a long-term shift from mindless to mindful consumption,” said John Gerzema, chief insights officer at Young & Rubicam. “People are realising that thrift isn’t a bad word. We can rent it, borrow it, trade it.  The old way of spending no longer has to happen.”

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