‘Serial returners’ hit by new ASOS policy

Online retailer tackles perceived abuse by online customers

ASOS changes in terms and conditions

ASOS has changed its returns policy. In a move that some might consider to be customer unfriendly, it has made significant changes to its returns policy. It hits out at serial returners and customers who wear something once and then return it

ASOS emailed all its customers regarding the new terms and conditions.

“If we notice an unusual pattern of returns activity that doesn’t sit right: e.g. we suspect someone is actually wearing their purchases and then returning them or ordering and returning loads – way, waaay more than even the most loyal ASOS customer would order – then we might have to deactivate the account and any associated accounts.”

In addition to cracking down on serial returners, Asos’ new returns policy will allow shoppers to return unwanted purchases up to 45 days from point of purchase rather than 28.

The first paragraph is the softener, extending the returns time. There isn’t a need to do this. Under the under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013  you have a 14 day cooling-off period during which you can change your mind. You have up to 14 days to inform the retailer and 14 days from then to send back the item.  There are some exceptions to this, such as bespoke items. And in any case, if people are going to return an item what difference does an extra couple of weeks make to nearly a month/

However, the second part is contentious. ASOS says that if it suspects a customer of wearing an item once and then returning it, it may ban the customer from ordering from its site. Or if a customer orders a high number of clothes and returns them too frequently they may also get banned.

From the shopper’s point of view

People buy from the Internet for a number of reasons including, for example

  • Inability to get to shops due to disability, lack of transport, lack of suitable local shops, etc.
  • Convenience
  • Choice
  • Price

There are no changing rooms on the Internet, so it isn’t surprising that people buy more items to see what fits. A couple of years ago, when wanting to find a dress for a special event, I ordered about 50 dresses! I rarely wear dresses, am all out of proportion and the thought of traipsing round shops and trying stuff on filled me with dread. So I took to the Internet and then tried on one dress after another. All but one went back.

Years and years ago we had catalogues, remember? Littlewoods, Freemans etc. We ordered from them and either paid it all off in one go or paid monthly. But all the items cost more than they did in the shops, even if you paid it all off in one go. The cost of people returning items for free was clearly factored into the cost. Big firms like ASOS should be able to cope with this, surely?

As Keshia East, beauty blogger says (see video below) “With social media, young people are buying things wearing them and returning them because they want fast fashion. It’s the culture now and firms like ASOS  feed into that”.

How should a business deal with this?

Wearing an item once and sending it back is fraud, that’s clear. Customers have been known to take their items that have been worn once to the dry cleaners, so they can be returned! Any move to stop people doing this is a good one. It is no different to someone doing the same in store, it’s theft for x number of days.

However, remember the stores on the High Street which have more overheads than online retailers, lose money through shoplifting and paying for security. Perhaps online retailers would do well to remember this/ If bricks and mortar retailers have to allow for theft and plan it into their forecast then online retailers should also. Their costs are already lower than those of the High Street so should they not bear some costs too. Ordering a lot of items for choice and comparison should just be expected and again planned into a company’s online strategy, as part of normal online shopping behaviour.

Perhaps the email is just to warn consumers and put some off wearing an item once?

When a customer changes their mind and has the right to return, the return postage does not have to be paid by the customer. So, perhaps companies should consider abolishing the free returns option? This would have to be weighed against the potential lost custom compared with the possible amount saved. It could be, of course, that if someone thinks it is OK to wear something once and return it they won’t think anything of damaging the item before returning it. Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 they can return the item for free.

ASOS changes in ts and cs will the measures work on woman in black top

Other issues with returns

Consumers need to be educated about fast fashion and the damage that it does to the environment. This may help reduce the amount of ordering and change people’s attitudes to always having to buy new. At the same time we need to pester companies to do more with returned items and not send them to landfill. It is a very mixed and unknown quantity of what goes to landfill. What is recycled, what is resold and what goes to landfill?

This is really hitting small businesses. I hear frequent reports of how this practice is killing them. A number of small businesses have said to me how they sell items that can’t be resold but have returned. Smaller businesses and sole traders can’t carry the extra cost.

Emma Drew blogs at Emma Drew and used to sell one eBay too says “Customers abusing our returns policy was part of the reason we decided to close down our eBay business. The majority of our stock was clothing or other fashion items and we found ourselves being used as a ‘rental service’. Each return would cost us about £6.30 to cover postage to the buyer and postage back. As a small business we could no longer absorb this cost and increasing our prices to account for this cost would put buyers off. We now no longer trade on eBay.”

Your rights

Your rights when shopping online

Will this new measure work?

It’s interesting because I think it is just scaremongering. Social media was rife with suggestions that ASOS would look at social media and people’s accounts and look for pictures where people have taken photos of themselves, tagged ASOS and then returned the items. Ridiculous. If ASOS had the resources to look at that they would be far more than the loss they may be currently making from people returning items.

I doubt it will make any difference at all. Why should it? How will ASOS prove anything and would it risk the possible backfire if it got a customer’s details wrong?!

Other retailers may watch with interest, but the more innovative companies may look at comparing costs of returns against any backlash from getting things wrong and looking at ways to stop people being able to wear something once and return it in t


ASOS change in returns policy

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Avoiding a right Royal Fail at the Royal Mail

Stamp prices going up and service going down

Stamps rise in cost 2019

First class stamps will increase in price by 3p to 70p on Monday 25th March 2019. And second class goes up from 58p to 61p!

However, Royal Mail has also made a “mistake” in doing this! Ofcom capped any rise above 60p until 1 April 2019. On its website it says “Due to an error on our part, our new 2nd Class stamp price of 61p will be 1p above the existing regulatory price cap for a period of 7 days – from March 25 until April 1. We are donating the revenue that we expect to collect from the error – around £60,000 – to the charity Action For Children, which helps disadvantaged children across the UK.”

The cost of stamps has risen year on year.

Cost of second class stamps                                   Cost of first class stamps 

Year cost % rise on previous year Year cost % rise on previous year
2009 30p 2009 39p
2010 32p 6.67% 2010 41p 5.13%
2011 36p 12.50% 2011 46p 12.20%
2012 50p 38.89% 2012 60p 30.43%
2013 50p 0% 2013 60p 0%
2014 53p 6% 2014 62p 3.33%
2015 54p 1.89% 2015 63p 1.61%
2016 55p 1.85% 2016 64p 1.58%
2017 56p 1.82% 2017 65p 1.56%
2018 58p 3.57% 2018 67p 3%
2019 61p 5.17% 2019 70p 4.47%

Price of stamps over the years

In researching historic prices for stamps I thought I would find a huge rise in percentage terms following privatisation. Interestingly, that is not the case. Although frequently not in line with inflation (and often lower) and apparently with no sense of planning by Royal Mail throughout the years, it actually raised its prices more before privatisation. But although privatisation may have actually kept the cost of a stamp down, it has spectacularly failed in other areas, apparently due to bad financial decisions by management.

Royal Mail and the move to privatisation

Royal Mail was a public service. However, Wikipedia states that “following the Postal Services Act 2011 a majority of the shares in Royal Mail were floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2013 A 30% stake was retained by the Government but the rest of Royal Mail was sold in 2015.” An Essex postman of 20 years who wants to remain anonymous (we’ll call him Essex Postie), says that about 18 months prior to privatisation things changed dramatically. Posties were told that they would have new, regimented, working hours which meant more ‘calls’ and longer hours, but no pay rise. Essex Postie says “If we finished our rounds within the time period set, we would have to return to the office and complete other duties / deliveries. We were allowed to ‘cut off’, meaning if the day was heavy and we couldn’t deliver before our specified time we could take the remainder back to the office. However, this was highly frowned upon by management staff who wanted a clear office to meet their targets”.

And remember the rebranding of Royal Mail to Consignia in 2002? That was a massively expensive failure. Royal Mail is still reeling from the cost of that.

Royal Mail changes to service over the years

With the increasing use of couriers and email over the years it is no surprise that Royal Mail profits are down and we certainly haven’t seen the increases of previous years. But Royal Mail and even Essex Postie says that the prices are still some of the lowest in the world. However, remember when the postie was the first to notice when an elderly person didn’t come to the door and the postie could raise the alarm that something was wrong? Essex Postie says that, historically, it was always ‘job and finish’, meaning that you were given the autonomy to manage your round, albeit if you were paid beyond your actual work time (good for posties but not so cost efficient for Royal Mail!) But, because of this most took a sense of civic pride in their work. Essex Postie says “I didn’t just deliver mail, I helped people who’d locked themselves out of their homes, notified countless customers that had left their keys in their doors and gave witness statements to police following incidents I had seen on my round. I could stop and chat to a lonely pensioner, or ask if the housebound needed anything bringing to them.” All that has gone. Whilst I appreciate that giving posties unrestricted hours would give rise to obvious issues, surely there is scope for some middle ground?

Essex Postie says that the numerous changes over the years have contributed to a culture of resentment towards management and no sense of office camaraderie. This, he says, has led to colleagues taking much less pride in their role and not having time, good will, or inclination to offer the pastoral care they used to provide to their customers and communities.

Delivery offices once had experienced managers who worked their way up and remained loyal to their office and staff who were hired on permanent full-time contracts. This has changed significantly. Managers started to be moved around from office-to-office, causing upheaval and uncertainty. ‘Casuals’ had always been employed at Christmas to assist with the four-week busy period. However, slowly but surely ‘Casuals’ started to appear as part of the general workforce, to the point of actually taking over some roles completely. New staff hired now are only offered 20hrs per week contracts and if an existing employee (who may have worked in their office for 20 years plus) requests a transfer to another office they must also drop down to 20 hours!

old fashioned post box on stick on cliff top background sea

Lack of strategy and consistency

There seems little cohesion of national policy and procedure implementation and one manager at one office can decide to do something very different (and, often, controversial) to a counterpart elsewhere, creating disparity and resentment amongst staff. For example, some offices do ‘absorption’ and some don’t have to. This is the round of a walk that is not permanently covered by a permanent delivery person which is shared out between 4 people who are expected to deliver this without any extra pay. Other examples are staff being sent out again after their walks have been delivered, although this doesn’t happen at all offices. Some offices still allow staff to use their own cars for deliveries.

There were a number of changes, with posties starting out on foot, then using a Royal Mail bicycle, then their own cars, then cars were banned, trolley boxes were introduced, then a return to Royal Mail mountain bikes, then working in pairs (one of whom would drive due to moving into a new fleet of Royal Mail vans (because ‘parcel drivers’ would no longer exist and all delivery staff would now have to take letters AND parcels as all the rounds were reassigned.)

Royal Mail and the community

A Royal Mail spokesperson said “Every day we receive reports of our people going above and beyond in the communities they serve. Royal Mail takes its corporate responsibility very seriously. We are proud of the work our people do in the community, which goes far beyond delivering mail and parcels.”

Last year it began working with the Home Office on a new community service, “Safe and Connected“, to help tackle loneliness. During the trial postmen and women from three delivery offices – Liverpool North, Whitby and New Malden, made regular scheduled visits to pre-selected volunteer participants to check on their well-being.​

However, it is a trial. It is specific. It was not what we used to know, the natural part and parcel of the job. I asked Royal Mail if staff were given extra hours to undertake this work, or if their rounds were shorter and if there were plans for a roll out. A spokesperson said “We do not anticipate any delay or disruption to the postal round from this trial. We will be considering feedback from all parties including the trial participants before any decisions are made about the future of the service.”

Is it just me that thinks it is peculiar that what used to be part and parcel of a job which staff were clearly happy to do now needs to be part of a limited trial?

What of the future for Royal Mail?

So, perhaps the privatised Royal Mail wants to be seen as working to keep costs down for consumers and with improved service for its customers compared with before privatisation? However, you know what? I for one would be more than happy to pay a penny more for a stamp if it meant that Essex Postie and his colleagues could go back to taking pride in their work, looking out for the vulnerable and helping to be the eyes and ears of local communities.

What do you think? Would you be happy to spend an extra penny on a stamp if it meant an improvement in service?