With German customers currently returning up to 75 percent of the items they buy online, shops are resorting to new measures to cut costs. Two major online retailers have now said they will start charging customers for returns, and a major association has said it expects more to follow.

Uniqlo and Zara charging for returns: More retailers to follow?

The Federal Association of E-Commerce and Mail Order (BEVH) has said it assumes that free returns for clothes bought via the internet will soon be a thing of the past. “We expect an end to the free returns that have been allowed up to now and that customers also expect,” a spokesperson told the Süddeutsche Zeitung

Last year, the Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo introduced a 2,95-euro return fee per package for online returns. It was followed a few days ago by Zara, the best-known fashion brand of the Spanish Inditex group, which now charges 1,95 euros per return. 

BEVH explained that retailers were facing higher costs for transport, postage and packaging and were passing these costs onto customers. “If return shipping costs remain high, Zara and Uniqlo will be the first, but not the last,” the spokesperson said. 

Up to 75 percent of online purchases returned in Germany

However, other major retailers in Germany like Amazon, Zalando and Otto said that they were not planning on introducing a fee for returns anytime soon. “At a time when they are additionally burdened by the rise in prices for energy and other goods, we will certainly not ask our customers to pay extra for returns,” said a spokesperson for the Otto Group in response to a request from AFP

According to the EHI trade research institute in Cologne, Germany is the “returns champion” of Europe, with up to 75 percent of all packages bought online ultimately sent back to the retailer. When it comes to clothes shopping, at least 50 percent of packages are sent back. The issue has long been in the spotlight as a major source of waste since returned items are often destroyed rather than sold again. 

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