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Return fees for online shopping could soon go up. Here's why

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During the pandemic, the number of people shopping online more than doubled and some stores created generous return policies to encourage the trend.

Now, as many as one out of every three items purchased online gets sent back, which has some retailers cracking down on returns and considering implementing fees.

“Retailers have had enough and they are getting more aggressive in regulating return policies and tightening them up quite a bit," retail analyst Bruce Winder told CTV News Toronto Monday.

Winder said some retailers feel consumers may be taking advantage of free shipping policies and some are shortening the time allowed to return items. Others may soon charge fees if you send something back.

For example, clothing retailer H & M is testing a fee for returns in Europe.

“We know that when you buy things by e-commerce, the return rate is usually three times of that for brick and mortar stores,” Winder said, adding “retailers can’t make money when they have to take back 30 per cent of their items.”

Winder said goods being returned have to be sorted, which can be labour-intensive. Some items may not be able to go back on the shelf after being returned – these are rerouted liquidation centres.

Sylvia Ng, is the CEO of ReturnBear, a company working with retailers to make it easier to return items by creating drop-off points which can help reduce shipping costs.

“We deal with e-commerce returns trying to make them more convenient for consumers, more profitable for retailers and overall better for the planet,” Ng said.

Part of the problem is that some consumers are so used to shopping online and having free returns, they will buy several items in different colours or styles with the expectation to keep only one or two and send the rest back.

“A lot of the retailers are now seeing their return rates of 20, to 30 to even 40 per cent and they are looking at charging consumers to make returns in order to make ends meet," Ng said.

To avoid confusion over returns, inquire about a store's return policy before you purchase something from them. Do you need a receipt, sales tags and the original packaging? Is it a full refund or store credit? Does a restocking fee apply? Are there shorter return times and who pays return shipping?

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