Zara now charges for order returns

Zara has quietly decided to charge its customers for returns of orders placed on the internet. Managing item returns is a logistical headache for e-commerce companies, and an ecological scourge.

Returning a Zara order placed online now costs 1.95 euros. An announcement that may seem innocuous and yet, this change of strategy of the first fast-fashion brand in the world marks a turning point.

The Spanish brand, established in France since 1990, has discreetly added a short line on its website specifying that all “returns concerning orders placed from April 28, 2022” now have “a cost of 1.95 euros, deducted of the amount reimbursed”.

At a time when major ready-to-wear brands are making free returns a marketing argument, Zara’s decision is surprising. It only concerns the Spanish brand for the moment, the other companies of the Inditex group (Bershka, Pull&Bear, Oysho, Massimo Dutti, Stradivarius) continue to offer the costs in the event of the return of products.

This is also what makes this change in policy surprising. Zara is the leading brand of the Inditex group and also the most profitable with its 2,000 stores worldwide. In 2021, the brand generated 19.6 billion euros in turnover out of the 27.7 billion euros made by Inditex. The group is therefore taking a risk in experimenting on Zara with the payment of return costs.

A logistical puzzle and an ecological scourge

But e-commerce companies no longer really have a choice, as the volume of parcels has exploded since the health crisis and the temporary closure of physical points of sale.

Managing product returns is a real logistical headache, because these round trips multiply short trips and overload storage space.

Unlike traditional deliveries, which can be centralized to optimize distribution, returns are often made individually, thanks to pre-printed labels provided on delivery. The items are then picked up by truck and transported bit by bit to the warehouse. Additional kilometers that generate costs and a lot of pollution.

Proof that it is this process that is targeted, Zara only charges for the return of items to a drop-off point. Bringing an order back to the store is free. Same system at H&M, which charges 95 cents for return costs at a relay point, except for members of its loyalty program.

Many drifts

Free returns have been popularized by online fashion giants like Asos, Boohoo and Shein, which don’t have physical stores. A way to seduce consumers accustomed to trying on clothes in the cabin before buying them.

The German site Zalando goes even further and offers to try before you pay. “You dreamed of being able to try without counting! This new service allows you to order, receive your items, try them on and pay only for those you keep”, boasts Zalando.

But the free return of articles generates drifts. According to Narvar, a company that handles delivery and return tracking, 41% of consumers buy multiple versions of a product to try it out with the intention of returning it.

More and more brands are therefore offering size guides with precise measurements to better guide buyers and reduce the share of returns. Some brands like Levi’s also offer detailed product fit guides.

In addition, companies are also confronted with the phenomenon of “wardrobing”. A term that refers to buying an item, putting it on without removing the tag, for example to take a photo for social media, then returning it and claiming a refund.

These practices, the logistical and ecological issues are all reasons that could push other brands to follow in the footsteps of Zara and H&M on the invoicing of returned items.

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