Zara has quietly decided to charge its customers for returning orders placed on the Internet. Handling the return of goods is a logistical headache for e-commerce companies and an ecological nuisance.
Returning a Zara order placed online now costs 1.95 euros. A message that may seem harmless, and yet this change in strategy for 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 stating that all “returns relating to orders placed from 28 April 2022” now have “a price of 1.95 euros, less the amount repaid “.
At a time when big ready-to-wear brands are turning free returns into a marketing argument, Zara’s decision is surprising. It only concerns the Spanish brand at the moment, the other companies in the Inditex group (Bershka, Pull & Bear, Oysho, Massimo Dutti, Stradivarius) continue to offer the cost in case of return of products.
That is also what makes this change in policy surprising. Zara is the leading brand in the Inditex group and also the most profitable with its 2,000 stores worldwide. In 2021, the brand generated 19.6 billion euros in revenue out of the 27.7 billion euros that Inditex made. The group therefore runs a risk by experimenting on Zara with the payment of return costs.
A logistical puzzle and an ecological nuisance
But e-commerce businesses no longer really have a choice, as the volume of packages has exploded since the health crisis and the temporary closure of physical outlets.
Product return handling 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 on delivery. The goods 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 charges only for the return of goods to a delivery point. It is free to bring an order back to the store. The same system at H&M, which charges 95 cents for return costs at a relay point, except for members of their loyalty program.
Free returns have become popular with online fashion giants like Asos, Boohoo and Shein, which do not have physical stores. A way to seduce consumers who are used to trying on clothes in the booth before buying it.
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 goods, try them and only pay for the ones you keep,” Zalando boasts.
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 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 fitting guides.
In addition, companies are also confronted with the phenomenon of “wardrobe”. A term that refers to buying an item, putting it on without removing the mark, for example, to take a picture for social media, then return it and demand a refund.
This practice, the logistical and ecological problems are all reasons that can push other brands to follow in Zara’s and H & M’s footsteps in invoicing returned goods.