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Many (Un)Happy Returns: $743B in Merchandise Sent Back in 2023

Overall return rate is higher for online retailers

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Many (Un)Happy Returns: $743B in Merchandise Sent Back in 2023
tumsasedgars/iStock.com

Even though retailers have been working hard to mitigate returns, such transactions still added up to $743 billion in merchandise in 2023, according to a new report by the National Retail Federation and Appriss Retail.

As a percentage of sales, the total return rate for 2023 was 14.5 percent.

“Retailers continue to test and implement new ways to minimize losses from returns, particularly those that are fraudulent, while at the same time optimizing the shopping experience for their customers,” said NRF Executive Director of Research Mark Mathews. “Retailer’s efforts include providing greater detailed descriptions on sizing and fit of products for online purchases and requiring a receipt with returned items. As a whole, the industry is prioritizing efforts to reduce the amount of merchandise returned in stores and online.”

According to the report, for every $1 billion in sales, the average retailer incurs $145 million in merchandise returns. Online sales experience and even higher return rate: 17.6 percent, or $247 billion of merchandise purchased online returned. That compares with just over 10 percent for pure bricks-and-mortar returns (excluding online orders that are returned in-store), or $371 billion.

In addition, return fraud contributed $101 billion in overall losses for retailers. Moreover, for every $100 in returned merchandise, retailers will lose $13.70 to return fraud.

While the just-ended holiday season is one of the biggest sales periods of the year for retailers, survey participants for the study only expected a slight uptick in the return rate compared with the rest of the year.

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(Editor’s note: Due to a change in methodology for gathering the data by NRF and Appriss Retail, 2023 numbers cannot be compared to earlier years.)

Click here for the 2023 returns results.

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