Online shopping has drastically changed the way consumers shop and return unwanted items. 

Whereas before they’d have to physically go back to the store at which they made their purchase in order to acquire a refund, now they can simply head to the post office or a local courier service, often with the option to send returns for free.

This has also enabled more people to become “serial returners”, a term that refers to those who frequently buy large quantities of clothing in bulk, wear them as they go about their everyday lives and then return them, receiving every penny of their money back.

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Following recent research conducted by resource planning platform Brightpearl, 45 per cent of retailers in the UK, including Asos and Harrods, have said they’re going to start blacklisting consumers who they’ve discovered are regularly returning worn items of clothing.

Asos stated that it’s been forced to occasionally check its customers’ social media accounts when the retailer’s security teams have noticed a suspicious pattern of returns.

Sophie Cridland, a freelance broadcast journalist from Dorset, explains to The Independent that when purchasing shoes, she needs to wear them in order to see if they’re a good fit.

Therefore, while she won’t usually return worn clothes, with shoes the option to do so is vital, in her eyes.

“I have quite big feet, I'm a size eight and so sometimes I have to try out the shoes first to see whether they too big or too small," she says, adding that she'll return the ones she's bought if they don't fit and another size is available.

Cridland admits that the shoes she returns may sometimes seem worn, although they’re never damaged and she always gives the soles a clean before asking for a refund.

Asos’s lenient returns policy is one of the main reasons Cridland became an Asos Premier member, which gives her free unlimited next day delivery and returns for £9.95 a year.

While Asos now uses a service called Klarna, which allows customers using the retailer’s app to order items without paying on a trial basis, the news that Asos is going to start blacklisting “serial returners” may deter Cridland from shopping with the company in future.

“If they do start clamping down and I get penalised, I won't be shopping with them anymore because it's not worth paying that postage every time,” she says.

Another shopper, who goes by the name Sarah, describes herself as a “returnaholic”.

The admin assistant from Stafford in the West Midlands regularly returns clothes that she’s worn once, as she wouldn’t be able to afford the apparel otherwise.

“I love the thrill of a shop and buying new clothes. Putting on something new makes me feel really happy and excited,” Sarah told The Sun.

“I think that feeling has turned me into a returnaholic.” 

Sarah explained that she’s learnt which shops have labels that are small and easy to reattach, so that she can remove the tags while wearing clothing that she plans to return later. What started as an occasional habit quickly became a way of life.

“Once I realised how easy it was, I started doing it more often,” she said. “I admit it’s turned into an addiction.”

Another shopper, who chose to remain anonymous, told Refinery29 how she’d often buy outfits when planning to dress up for a special occasion, always leaving the tags on so that she had the option to return them afterwards.

“Nine times out of 10, I’ll return it afterwards,” she said. “I will dry-clean it if necessary. I’ve never returned damaged stuff.”

The anonymous shopper felt confident returning worn items due to the experiences of a friend, who used to work in retail.

The retail worker had noticed a photo on Facebook of a shopper wearing a dress worth a couple thousand dollars that had recently been returned.

When the shop worker questioned the buyer over returning a worn item, she was fired by her employer.

“You can’t really make the customer feel uncomfortable, because at the end of the day, you’re just there to sell. You’re not there to stand up for the company,” the friend of the retail worker said.

“The majority of the time, I don’t feel like the store is losing out on anything because I’m returning current-season stuff in wearable condition.”

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Clear Returns, a retail data technology company, recently estimated that returns cost UK retailers around £60bn a year.

Products bought online and then promptly returned account for approximately a third of the costs.

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