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Online returns in Europe

Any customer who bought a product online, has the right to return this item. In Europe, online consumers have the right to cancel and return their order within 14 days. They don’t need to tell the retailer why they are returning the item.

Having the right to cancel and return a product that was bought online is one – on the consumers’ side at least – one of the great advantages of shopping online. Of course, there are some exemptions to this rule. For example, tickets or clearly personalized goods can’t be returned under the same conditions or can’t be returned at all.

Informing the retailer and sending back the product

If a customer wants to return something he bought online, he must tell the retailer he wants to cancel the purchase. The online retailer must then provide the customer with a model withdrawal form, but filling this isn’t necessary. Informing the retailer and sending back the product may happen at the same time. After informing the retailer, which should happen within 14 days after purchase, customers have another 14 days to return the product.

Shipping fees and return fees

According to European laws, the online retailer must give the customer a refund within 14 days of receipt of their cancellation. Delaying the refund is allowed if the retailer hasn’t received the product or evidence of the return. The refund must include any shipping fees the customer paid when he made the purchase, except for when the customers specifically requested non-standard delivery, such as express delivery. Retailers are allowed though to ask for a return fee.

Total return percentage per industry in Europe

In 2016, Ecommerce Europe issued a ‘Ecommerce Benchmark & Retail’ report [pdf], which included interesting statistics on online returns in Europe.  The total return percentage per industry is highest among media (17,78 percent), fashion retailers (16,50 percent) and department stores (15,98 percent). Specialty stores and food sellers have a low return rate, which shouldn’t come as a surprise as consumers already know what they are looking for in a specialty store and often can’t return fresh products.

Return percentage Europe

Smaller companies have lower return rates

It’s also shown that smaller companies have lower return rates. This may have something to do with the fact bigger ecommerce companies have bigger budgets and gaining as much market share as possible is their first priority. Look for example at how Zalando has dominated the online fashion industry in Europe. The German company doesn’t think it’s a bad thing to have a high return rate.

Total return percentage by region in Europe

In 2016, this were the total return percentages in Europe:

Northern Europe: 14,69%
Western Europe: 14,04%
Central Europe: 10,68%
Eastern Europe: 6,60%
Southern Europe: 6,44%