It is hardly news that returns are becoming a big issue for the UK’s clothing retailers. But the growing level of online sales is leading to returns reaching such proportions that they are causing some serious problems.
Whose clothes mountain?
We are not just talking about the weaker end of the industry or the less experienced either. Returns are causing painful headaches for merchants of all shapes and sizes.
Among those finding it tough to get a handle on the processing of returns is ASOS. It has a large warehouse based in Barnsley, Yorkshire, that is run by Unipart Logistics and it is battling to deal with returns and to get them back into the system and made available for re-sale.
It is no better at Marks & Spencer where there is a serious stockpile of goods building up at its returns base that is handled by DHL and Tesam Distribution.
For these big players it is proving a lot easier to get ordered goods out of the door and into the hands of the customer but once these items have been returned then it is a completely different scenario.
It is a lot more complicated dealing with returns than outbound goods and so the cost per unit of dealing with them is higher. It is not possible to pay bottom dollar wages for employees processing returns as there is a lot more intervention and decision making to be made within this part of the business.
What is most worrying is that ASOS and M&S are clearly very well respected and for these two giants of the clothing industry to be having a difficult time dealing with returns suggests the fashion industry is in a serious mess.
As online sales grow then the problem looks like getting even worse, with the mountain of returned goods growing ever higher in warehouses around the country.