Since the start of May, the fast fashion giant has been charging a fee of £1.95 for customers to return clothing bought via their online store.
The fee is deducted from the refund total from orders returned via a “Drop-Off Point”. However, items returned in-store will not incur any charges.
Shoppers have 30 days to return the items and cannot return separate orders in the same box.
It comes after retailer Boohoo reported that the rate of returns has soared so high that it led to sales falling in the three months to May 2022 compared to a year ago.
The fashion industry has seen returns rates rising in recent months, which retail analyst Pippa Stephens of GlobalData said is due to “consumers opting for more fashion-led items, rather than the loungewear they primarily purchased during the lockdowns”.
She added that the cancellations of Christmas parties last December, triggered by the new wave of Covid-19 cases, “drove an influx of partywear returns”.
Zara’s move echoes policies that are already in place at retailers like Uniqlo, Sports Direct and Next.
According to The Industry, the move may prompt other fashion brands to consider charging customers for online returns to head off declining sales.
Some customers have taken to social media to complain about the high street label’s new policy, with many criticising the company for not officially announcing the change.
Several shoppers have also pointed out that charging people who cannot go to a store is “ableist” as many disabled people are unable to go to a physical store with ease.
“So let me get this right,” one person tweeted. Zara will allow in-store returns free but not online? So if you’re disabled like me and ONLY can shop online, then you are f***ed?”
Another said: “Shopping online is my only option due to chronic illness/disability. I simply won’t purchase anything that I’d have to pay to return. This is an ableist policy by Zara.”
Others pointed out that inconsistencies in Zara’s sizing means many people buy multiple sizes online to try the clothes on at home and return the clothes that do not fit.
“Zara vanity sizing made shopping as difficult as ever whereby I have to order a minimum of two sized per item,” one person wrote.
“You want me to either, stand in an endless queue and deal with rude staff and promote impulse purchasing, or pay to return by post, when everything else is on the rise??”
Another said: “Zara cancelling free returns because everyone returns their s*** because their sizing is so s*** nothing ever f***ing fits.”
However, some people believe that charging a fee to return clothes may bring an end to “haul culture”, where people buy a large number of purchases online and show them to followers online before returning most or all of the items.
The practice is popular among online content creators on Instagram and TikTok, who make short “haul videos” as a way of reviewing the items.
One person said: “I think they’re obviously trying to change people’s shopping habits… they’re calling some people ‘serial returners’, which I do agree some people really need to not be so flippant about buying things but it’s not fair on other people who rarely do.”
Retail expert Jonathan De Mello tweeted: “Zara following Next and Uniqlo in charging for online returns – and more retailers will likely follow suit.
“Inevitable really given the cost of processing online returns – not to mention the environmental impact. Good for stores too, as returns will still be free in-store.”