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$743 Billion in Merchandise Returned in 2023

Retailers have been focused on efforts to mitigate returns, as total returns for the industry amounted to $743 billion in 2023, a return rate of 14.5%, according to a report released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Appriss Retail.

For every $1 billion in sales, the average retailer incurs $145 million in merchandise returns, according to the report. Online sales saw a higher return rate, with 17.6% or $247 billion of merchandise purchased online returned, compared to 10% for pure bricks-and-mortar returns, excluding online orders that are returned in-store, or $371 billion.

“Retailers continue to test and implement new ways to minimize losses from returns, particularly those that are fraudulent, while at the same time optimizing the shopping experience for their customers,” says Mark Mathews, NRF executive director of research. “Retailers’ efforts include providing greater detailed descriptions on sizing and fit of products for online purchases and requiring a receipt with returned items. As a whole, the industry is prioritizing efforts to reduce the amount of merchandise returned in stores and online.”

This year, return fraud contributed $101 billion in overall losses for retailers.

As concerns around return fraud continue to grow, retailers are bolstering their efforts to mitigate the related losses. With increases in both in-store and digital traffic, some retailers are testing in-store policy changes and limiting returns of purchases made online. Keeping customer satisfaction in mind, retailers are strengthening customer service operations through frictionless retail and a seamless end-to-end user experience.

Among the types of return fraud retailers say they have experienced in the past year, nearly half (49%) cited returns of used, non-defective merchandise, also known as wardrobing, and 44% cited the return of shoplifted or stolen merchandise. Over one-third (37%) said they experienced returns of merchandise purchased on fraudulent or stolen tender and one-fifth (20%) said they have experienced return fraud from organized retail crime groups.

“The continued growth of online channels has had a significant impact on retail sales and returns,” says Michael Osborne, CEO of Appriss Retail. “One example is our tracking of claims and appeasements, which is a new category in online returns that covers reports for missed, late or damaged deliveries, and is the fastest-growing category for return fraud.”

While the holiday season is one of the biggest sales periods of the year for retailers, they only expect a slight uptick in the return rate compared with the rest of the year. The study finds that $148 billion in holiday merchandise is expected to be returned at a rate of 15.4%. However, retailers anticipate nearly $25 billion in fraudulent returns, which represent 16.5% of total holiday returns. The holiday season, with increased foot traffic, can be exploited by those seeking to make fraudulent returns.

About Jacob Musselman

Jacob is the content coordinator for Hardware Retailing Magazine. A lifelong Hoosier, Jacob earned a B.S. in journalism and telecommunications with a minor in digital publishing from Ball State University. He loves making bagels, going to farmers markets with his wife Hannah and two dogs and watching Formula One.

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