Following a recent survey of BFA Members, we’ve uncovered some interesting insights into footwear return rates online and in-store. Here, BFA Chief Executive Officer, Lucy Reece Raybould, explains why this data is a useful benchmark for footwear businesses across the country.

During a conversation some months ago, it was suggested to me that footwear return rates online could be as high as 60%. It was also predicted that return rates in-store could be as high as 30%.

To verify these figures, we sent a questionnaire to the BFA Membership asking for numbers. The results were far less severe than what had been suggested. However, there were clear differences in footwear return rates between digital-only brands, specialist retailers and multi-brand stores. I’d like to share some of these insights with you below.

Footwear Return Rates: Facts at a Glance

• 100% of those surveyed have an e-commerce website
• Footwear return rates for online sales range from 2% to 31%
• The median footwear return rate for online sales is 19%
• Of those with bricks and mortar stores, footwear return rates ranged from 0.55% to 21%
• The median footwear return rate for in-store sales is 5%

Traditional Mono-Brand Businesses

Among the respondents were Northampton-based traditional businesses specialising in Goodyear Welted shoes. One mono-brand business reported a 20% footwear return rate online compared to a figure of just 2% in-store. A similar business showed a comparable in-store rate of 3% but a far lower online return of just 2%. Perhaps here we see the influence of e-commerce functionality; is there something about the former’s website that is influencing customer confidence or preventing them from finding what they want? Could the imagery be misrepresenting the shoes? We have passed this data back to the respondents.

Lucy Reece Raybould

Another of our survey participants offers unique and niche shoes for a targeted male audience. It offered a figure of just 0.55% for in-store return rates. Its online rate was higher but still lower than average at 8.75%.

Specialist Brands

Of those in the BFA Membership who responded, one specialist sports brand reported online return rates of 22% and in-store return rates of 21%, which is higher than the average. Another brand in the highly competitive sneaker category reported a 30% online return rate.

Online and Multi-Brand Retailers

One notable online and catalogue-based retailer reported an online footwear return rate of 20.5% and a 10.5% rate for shoes purchased in-store. Another business with a core brand focus on shoe fitting presented figures of 18% and 4.6% for online and in-store, respectively.

“In practice, almost one in every five pairs of shoes purchased online is returned to the retailer! This is a challenge for businesses of all sizes and needs to be addressed.”

Independent multi-brand retail businesses also presented higher online return figures. For example, one retailer gave the highest figure in our survey of 31% for online sales, compared with 7% in-store. As we can see from the median figure, online return rates of 19% are the average. Is this an issue of overconsumption on the part of the consumer? Or are customers not finding what they are looking for? We’d appreciate your thoughts on the matter.

Inevitable or Fixable?

How can we as a sector reduce the online footwear return rate, especially for multi-brand retailers? Or should we focus less on reducing the rate and more on funding the business ecosystem that copes with returns? Here are some thoughts from the BFA that I will be posing to our Members, including those in our newly-formed Independent Retailer Networking Group.

• Are online customers buying the same shoe in two or three sizes to try on at home? How can we mitigate this overconsumption digitally?
• How can postage, packaging and delivery fees be fairly calculated to reflect a business’s average monthly return rate?
• How can businesses tackle repeat purchasers who regularly buy many pairs of shoes to be returned shortly afterwards?
• Are high footwear return rates online an inevitability?
• What are your processes for handling returns, and how can this be streamlined for the future?

By participating in BFA Surveys, your opinion can contribute to insights that inform and educate our entire sector. BFA Members should keep an eye on their inboxes for the next quick-fire questionnaire. Are you not receiving our emails? Get in touch, and we will ensure your details are up to date. Become a Member of the BFA on an Individual or Company basis. Service providers and third-party businesses can also join our ranks as BFA Partners.