Canadians Keeping Unwanted Retail Purchases Rather than Returning Them Since the Pandemic: Study

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New data by The Angus Reid Forum, commissioned by ReturnBear, Canada’s first end-to-end returns solution, indicates that 46 per cent of Canadians aged 18-34 have lost money from keeping unwanted items they didn’t return since the pandemic.

Other key findings include:

  • 34 per cent of Canadians have lost money from keeping unwanted items they didn’t return since the pandemic. 19 per cent of Canadians have lost over $100, one-in-10 (nine per cent) Canadians have lost $250 or more;
  • Younger Canadians are more likely to have lost money from keeping unwanted items they didn’t return since the pandemic. One-in-five (20 per cent) Canadians aged 18-34 have lost less than $100, 15 per cent have lost at least $250, and nine per cent have lost more than $500;
  • In the past six months, Canadians have been cutting down on spending due to inflation. One-in-four (25 per cent) younger Canadians have felt forced to return clothes they’ve purchased, significantly higher than Canadians aged 35-54 (17 per cent) and especially those 55+ (seven per cent).

Robert Domagala, Head of Business Development and Marketing at ReturnBear, said returns are a pain point for Canadians, with many accumulating items and expenses to avoid the hassle, and others returning items they purchased after realizing fears of inflation. The report shows that there is national demand for a better retail returns solution, and a willingness from Canadians to take alternative measures to avoid returns altogether.

“Canadians are feeling the burden of retail returns. Many young Canadians are losing money simply to avoid the hassle of returning an item that didn’t work out. Millennials and Gen Z value speed, convenience, and affordability, and retailers need to pay attention to their wants and needs, especially in the shifting economic landscape,” he said “As we head into a potential recession, it’s more important than ever for retailers to cut the costs of returns for both themselves and their customers, and that’s exactly what ReturnBear does. We see a huge opportunity to provide a better solution to shoppers, and also correct the escalating problem of returns in the industry.”

Domagala said the survey results were both surprising and validating.

ReturnBear at CF Toronto Eaton Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)
Image: ReturnBear at CF Toronto Eaton Centre

“The fact that one in 10 Canadians were reporting that they have lost $250 or more of value, of purchase price, on returns that they couldn’t be bothered to return or didn’t feel that it was convenient to return or perhaps felt challenged by the return solution on offer, or the options on offer, and preferred to take that loss, acquiesced to taking that loss,” he said.

“Similarly, there was that stat that surfaced that of Canadians 18 to 34, specifically, nine per cent had lost more than $500 on unwanted items that they kept. That’s staggering to me because that is a lot of value and especially when you look at the age brackets here. A younger shopper with probably a bit less discretionary income to throw around still being prepared to eat upwards of $200, $300, $400 in a couple of return items. 

“The process must be wildly inconvenient to those people for them to be willing to take that loss. I’m still surprised by those numbers getting up to the 10 per cent range given the high dollar value and I’d be curious to see how that continues to play out as the recession ebbs and flows and as the cost to do business goes up. Despite me being surprised, the numbers are validating to me because I think they reinforce our thesis that there is a lot of opportunity especially in the Canadian market where this problem really hasn’t been tackled across our vast geography. A great deal of opportunity to improve the return process and from the consumer’s lens make it more convenient, more cost-effective, so that they can recover that lost value at the same time we want to help brands recover value by having lower cost return processes, encouraging their customers to use our drop offs for example as the brand pays for the cost of the return. We want to help them recover value.”

Image: ReturnBear at CF Toronto Eaton Centre

ReturnBear, which is backed by Cadillac Fairview and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, was established in October of last year.

The growth of e-commerce has spotlighted one of online retail’s biggest problems: returns. More online shopping means more online returns. Returns are costly for merchants and a hassle for customers, and up until now there has been no streamlined process to make this easier for Canadians. ReturnBear is on a mission to make retail returns easy and accessible for everyone.

Domagala said ReturnBear brought to market over the past year the first package free, label free drop off network of its kind in Canada. A major network is through many Cadillac Fairview shopping centres.

Robert Domagala

“And we’re excited to be exploring additional partnerships with some major neighbourhood retailers that would expand the reach of our drop off network,” he said. “So with scale and with training the Canadian customer to seek out this type of return process when making a purchase decision from a brand, we can help them enjoy not only a more convenient return should they select the drop off but in the case where they do have to pay the cost of the return where the brand isn’t covering the return, a lower cost return option.

“So just as our drop offs are lower cost return options for a brand that does bear the cost of return on behalf of their customer, are they a lower cost option for those customers that are shopping from brands that have not yet hit that sort of level of scale where they can offer free returns. And so we can at least start providing customers with this greater optionality, more choices, more locations.”

He said ReturnBear is encouraging brands to participate in this shared network it is building where there are drop off points coast to coast and multiple brands can use them.

“We are expanding our processing hub capacity beyond Toronto to include a hub in the Greater Montreal Area and one on the west coast. And when we do that participating merchants will have the ability to see product aggregation more regionally distributed without them having to own their own warehouses on both coasts for example,” added Domagala. So returns will have a shorter distance to travel when they’re coming in by mail . . . In doing it in a stepped manner that we are, it’s going to make this more accessible to more brands quite frankly.”

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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