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Hit or miss: the best (and worst) online returns

Amazon find ss18 2

Drapers’ annual test reveals which retailers offer the quickest and most convenient services.

Returns are a big issue. Research from BearingPoint (formerly LCP Consulting) found that for around 70% of customers returns are a deciding factor in who to shop with, underlining just how critical an easy and accessible process really is.

Drapers road-tested the services and policies of 14 retailers to find out which returns offers were the best. Being fast, straightforward and free are key determinants, while newer elements such as “refund at the point of return” from Amazon set the bar particularly high.

John Lewis and Asos use bags that are easy to tear open and reseal. However, others, such as New Look, send shoppers to the Royal Mail website to fill in a form and print it out – an annoying extra step. Cutting out and sticking postage labels to return items to Very and Marks & Spencer make the process less smooth.

House of Fraser, which scored highly in last year’s Hit or Miss series, lost points this time for failing to include a delivery note or returns document in the package. Shoppers are instructed to print out the receipt if it needs to be sent back, which is another irritating extra step. Asos, which is well aware that its twentysomething customer regularly over-orders and returns, offers the broadest range of returns options, spanning InPost, Pass My Parcel, Toyou at Asda, CollectPlus, Doddle, Hermes collection, Hermes store and Royal Mail. The methods offered by Net-a-Porter and Next, by contrast, are limited.

John Lewis, H&M, Debenhams and New Look all refunded the original delivery costs, which would probably make me more likely to order again, while at Amazon and House of Fraser delivery was free. At Next it cost £3.99 to arrange a courier collection, and Schuh offered free returns to store and via CollectPlus for account holders, but charged £2.50 for other customers and return postage has to be paid for.

Overall, returns are generally efficient, hampered by small niggles rather than fundamental problems, indicating that this is a new battleground for customer loyalty. Unless otherwise stated, Drapers ordered one low-priced item, paid by Paypal and returned within three days by post, where possible.

Retailers

Amazon

Amazon find ss18 4

9.5/10: Etail giant offers an intuitive online returns centre and an instant refund

Pros

Amazon has made no secret of its ambitions to conquer the fashion market, and although its range and fashion-specific shopping experience may require a little refinement, logistics is one area the ecommerce giant comes into its own. Amazon offers free delivery and returns. A 30-day returns period comes with a range of options, including a wide network of Pass My Parcel stores, CollectPlus or home collection. The slick online returns centre guides me through the process, and I am given the choice of an exchange with new sizes or colours. For Pass My Parcel returns, it emails me a barcode for the shop assistant to scan. I receive an email to say my refund has been issued the same day and the full amount appears in my bank the next day, making this the fastest refund of any retailer I encountered.

Cons

There are plenty of return points available but a Royal Mail option would be a helpful one if that is your preferred returns route.

John Lewis

John lewis + patternity ss18

John lewis + patternity ss18

9/10: Straightforward, fast and free, John Lewis eases the burden of returns

Pros

John Lewis offers one of the most generous returns policies at 35 days, behind that of Schuh’s extensive 365 days, and matched by Marks & Spencer. It is one of only four retailers to refund the original delivery fee, which is a nice touch. Items can be returned at any of its shops (except Heathrow) or

at all branches of Waitrose, which is convenient, as well as via Royal Mail, CollectPlus or Hermes. The delivery document in the package explains all the return options in order, and includes a brief troubleshooting Q&A, as well as all the relevant postage labels, which are clearly marked. The resealable bag, which you can helpfully tear rather than cut, makes repackaging the item quick and easy. The refund comes within a fairly average three working days and an email tells me that it has gone through.

Cons

The delivery fee was refunded as a separate transaction, despite being processed as one. John Lewis’s refund was fast, but not as quick as Amazon.

Asos

Asos ss18

Asos ss18

8/10: A wide range of returns channels and helpful details make an easy process

Pros

Asos covers all the bases in terms of where and how an item can be returned. Its seven options for returns are the highest of any retailer reviewed. With returns via InPost, Pass My Parcel, Toyou at Asda, CollectPlus, Doddle, Hermes and Royal Mail, you will never be far from a drop-off point. The bag is easy to tear open and reseal, and the email order confirmation includes helpful details such as an estimated cut-off date for returns. Asos says returns do not need to be in the original box or bag, as long as they are securely packed, which is helpful and more openly lenient than other retailers. My refund is processed on a Saturday, within a speedy three days of sending it back and an email alert confirms the transaction.

Cons

Unlike New Look and H&M, Asos does not refund original delivery costs, which could make me think twice about ordering in future. Instant refunds, as at Amazon, could be something Asos could also look at in future.

H&M

eco hm

8/10: Fast processing and a refund of the original delivery fee

Pros

Like most of the retailers surveyed, H&M offers a 28-day returns policy, and returns can be sent via Hermes courier, ParcelShop or Royal Mail, or returned to store. The delivery note is clear and simple to understand. H&M is one of just a handful of retailers to refund the original delivery charge and is the second quickest to alert me that my return is being processed. It was posted back on a Wednesday and I received an email to say it had been received by the Friday. The funds appeared back in my account on the Monday, which was a fast turnaround.

Cons

H&M could offer more than its four options for online returns, compared with the seven available at Asos. The bag, while resealable,

must be cut with scissors, rather than easily torn open, as with Asos or John Lewis, which is annoying. You also cannot get a Paypal refund in store and would just be given a giftcard, which may put some people off.

Net-a-Porter

Net a porter ss18

7/10: Limited returns options but the process works well for luxury buys

Pros

Net-a-Porter requires returns to be made by courier or via a Doddle pick-up point, both of which are free of charge. The process is clearly and simply explained in the delivery note, which has a premium, elegant feel that reflects the retailer’s high-end positioning. I drop the package at a Doddle pick-up point and receive an email instantly to confirm receipt.

I receive another email to confirm my return three days later, on a Sunday, and the refund is processed via Paypal on the same day. The process is quick, and I feel I am kept informed thanks to the instant communication.

Cons

Unlike H&M and John Lewis, Net-a-Porter does not refund the original delivery charge of £5, which is disappointing. More options for returns (such as pre-paid Royal Mail) would make the process slightly more convenient. Having to wait in for a courier or take the parcel to a Doddle collection location may not suit everyone.

House of Fraser

Hof ss18 top 70 biba. striped cropped trousers 49. bag 25 both maison de nimes

Hof ss18 top 70 biba. striped cropped trousers 49. bag 25 both maison de nimes

6/10: Paperless policy means customers have to print their own returns notes

Pros

House of Fraser offers a 28- day returns period for a full return and 35 days for an e-voucher, which gives a little more breathing space than most other retailers. It can receive returns via Royal Mail, CollectPlus or courier for large items. My refund is received within four days – faster than Debenhams and New Look. An email confirms the refund.

Cons

On the email order confirmation I am told HoF has gone paperless, so there are no delivery documents in the bag. Instead, a PDF of the various postage labels is attached to the email receipt. These need to be printed, cut out and stuck on. It would be easier if these were stickers, as at John Lewis. Inside the package Gousto and Ocado vouchers replace the paperwork I need, which is annoying.

With no printer at home, the process is inconvenient. If you paid with Paypal, returns to store can only be exchanged for a gift card or an alternative item, whereas rival John Lewis can process Paypal returns in store.

New Look

New look ss18 womenswear 1

New look ss18 womenswear 1

6/10: New Look refunds the delivery charge but postage requires an extra step

Pros

New Look allows returns to be sent back to store or via CollectPlus, Doddle and Royal Mail, and offers the standard 28-day returns period. The straightforward returns document explains everything I need to know, while online is set up for troubleshooting and answering questions. My refund comes within six days, faster than Debenhams and River Island, and

New Look refunds the original delivery charge, which is a nice touch.

Cons

Labels are provided for CollectPlus but for a Royal Mail return

I am instructed to go online and input details to create my own label, which is an annoying extra step that none of the other retailers using Royal Mail have. If you cannot print at home, it is emailed to the post office, which is helpful, but only available at certain locations.

The bag has no cut or tear marks to indicate where it to open it, so you could rip through the reseal strip. Provided you avoid that, it can be resealed.

Schuh

Schuh ss18 1 extend

6/10: Having to pay for returns postage compares unfavourably with others

Pros

Schuh has by far the longest returns period, offering an unbeatable 365 days to return an unwanted item, either to store or via CollectPlus or post. To encourage customer loyalty, account holders can send back items for free with CollectPlus. The footwear retailer is very upfront about its returns policy, taking the effort to attach an automated CollectPlus returns label to your email order confirmation. If you cannot print it off, Schuh will post it to you, which is a nice touch.

Cons

Online, it outlines the three returns options, whereas the delivery note only mentions post or in store, not CollectPlus. CollectPlus returns cost £2.50 for unregistered customers but it costs £3.90 to send the item back by second-class post, which is a lot, especially when many retailers offer free postal returns. It is frustrating that it does not explicitly say that I have to pay for my own return. At 11 days, the refund took too long.

Topshop topman denim. topshop mom gbp40 usd75 eur55 aud84.95

Topshop topman denim. topshop mom gbp40 usd75 eur55 aud84.95

6/10: A seemingly straightforward process could be made clearer and easier

Pros

Topshop offers free returns via Royal Mail or a Hermes Parcel Shop, or by taking the item into a store, which covers the main returns options. There is nothing particularly novel about the process but the delivery note is self-explanatory, and repackaging the bag is straightforward. My refund is received within five days, which is the same as Very and John Lewis but slower than Amazon, Net-a-Porter and Asos.

Cons

Topshop says it will refund any unworn, unused items when sent back in a saleable condition within 14 days of receipt or to a store within one month. However, on a separate web page it says 14 days to cancel and a further 14 days to return, so this is confusing. Unlike New Look and H&M, Topshop does not refund the original delivery cost. Inconveniently, the bag has to be opened with scissors. There

is not anything inside the bag to allow you to say why you are returning the item, which seems strange. 

Debenhams

Debenhams ss18 mw by matthew williamson dress

Debenhams ss18 mw by matthew williamson dress

5/10: Delivery charge is automatically refunded but refund takes nine days

Pros

Debenhams offers three easy ways to return – Royal Mail and Hermes Parcel Shop or courier collection – but flags back to store as the quickest route to a refund, which is helpful if you are in a rush. The postage stickers are provided for Royal Mail nonetheless, and the delivery note has a useful checklist and a detachable section to keep a note for your records, like Very and River Island.

Debenhams is one of the few retailers that automatically refunds the initial delivery charge, which is good.

Cons

The delivery arrives in a huge bag compared with the size of the item, and it must be cut and resealed with tape, which is irritating. The refund processing time, although within Debenhams’ policy of 10 working days, is one of the longest we surveyed, at nine days. Only Schuh and M&S take longer to process the refund, and Debenhams falls short of its fellow department store retailers such as House of Fraser and John Lewis.

Marks & Spencer

Arthaus 06 171016 2800

Arthaus 06 171016 2800

5/10: Generous returns period does not make up for a long wait for a refund

Pros

Marks & Spencer offers a longer-than-average returns policy at 35 days, matching that of John Lewis, but falling behind Schuh’s year-long promise. The retailer invites shoppers to return parcels via the convenient post, CollectPlus and Doddle routes, as well as into its network of stores. The instructions for each method are well explained on the delivery note, and the bag is easy to repackage.

Cons

Rather than labels, the returns details are on tear-out sheets that must be affixed, which is an extra step. The initial delivery charges are

not refunded, unlike at John Lewis or Debenhams. The refund took the longest time to be processed – at 16 days from posting back – but this may have been hampered somewhat by disruption caused by heavy snow.

This highlights where Amazon came into its own with the instantly processed refund, as both parcels were returned on the same day.

River Island

River island ss18 womenswear 2

River island ss18 womenswear 2

5/10: Relatively simple process is let down by a confusing cut-off period

Pros

River Island’s returns policy is easy and straightforward. Options for free returns range from CollectPlus, Doddle and Hermes Parcel Shop to courier, or taking them item into store. The Royal Mail postage stickers are provided in the package, which is helpful, but for all other options I am directed to the website. The refund arrives within a reasonable seven days of posting the item back, on a Saturday.

Cons

River Island has one of the shortest returns policies: like Next and Topshop, shoppers have 14 days to return by post or courier and a month to return items to one of its stores. A longer period would give a welcome bit of breathing space.

Your rights to cancel are on the general terms and conditions page, and it is not that clear that you actually have 14 days to cancel and 14 days to return, so 28 days in total. River Island also does not refund the original delivery cost, which was £3.99, unlike New Look and H&M.

Very

V by very ss18 7

V by very ss18 7

5/10: Small additional steps add up to a less-than-convenient experience

Pros

Shop Direct’s Very offers a 28-day returns policy and items can be sent back via CollectPlus and Royal Mail, although it recommends CollectPlus. After sending back by post, the refund was processed and received within a prompt five days. There was a slip to tear off to keep for my records, which felt reassuring.

Cons

Very did not refund the original postage costs, unlike H&M and Debenhams. There are not that many options for free returns, in contrast to Asos, which offers seven returns methods.

My account number is needed for the returns label, which is simple enough but an annoying extra step that other retailers do not have. I also have to cut open the bag and tape it up myself, which feels like an extra hassle.

I was alerted to the refund via an email from Paypal, but I did not receive one from Very to say it had been processed, even though I got four marketing emails for credit services in the meantime.

Next

Next ss18 3

Next ss18 3

4.5/10: Limited returns options, confusing charges and a poor courier service

Pros

Next clearly explains its two returns options – courier or return to store – and the bag is designed to be easily opened and repackaged. The refund is processed quickly, within four days of return, and an email confirms it.

Cons

In the last edition of our Hit and Miss series, Next informed us that returns postage is an option and it provided a Royal Mail label with the order, but this was not present within my parcel and there were no details on the website. Having only two options for returns does feel limiting. I have to ring to book a courier – it cannot be done online.

The £3.99 charge is taken off the price of the item that is returned and then refunded once the return is completed. Confusingly, in the end I receive the £5 cost of the T-shirt but not the £3.99 delivery charge. I book collection for Wednesday but the courier does not come until Friday. This is because of bad weather, but there is no communication, and the courier turns up unannounced.

Readers' comments (1)

  • John Lewis returns process is great. They have a blip in their system. You can return a product and get the full price returned, even if you bought on discount. Just wonder if brands they represent are aware of this, or if they are unknowingly paying for a JL error.

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