Are UK consumers sacrificing the environment for aesthetics?

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Fresh research commissioned by sizing technology specialist, Makip, reveals that the majority (81%) of UK online shoppers have serious concerns about the environmental impact of ordering multiple items of clothing in different sizes to try on at home.

However, despite such a large majority being concerned about the environmental impact of their shopping habits, a worrying 42% of UK online shoppers would still continue with their purchase even if retailers highlighted the environmental impact of ordering multiple items in the knowledge they will be returned, at a significant cost to the environment.

Makip’s findings present a real issue for eCommerce fashion retailers. Given that in 2022, some 23 million items of returned fashion were sent to landfill or incinerated in the UK – generating 750,000 tonnes of CO₂ emissions, representing 75% of the approx 3% of all returns that can’t be resold – this issue is not going away.

Shingo Tsukamoto, President of Makip, reflects on the research findings, “UK consumers are clearly conflicted when it comes to this worrying common practice. 

It presents a real problem for fashion brands and retailers alike, who are trying to balance their environmental and moral responsibilities with customer demand and satisfaction.”

The rising volume and cost of returns is a problem that has plagued retailers for years and in 2022, industry research showed that the top reason for returns was incorrect sizing or fit, with online returns costing retailers an average of £20 for every returned package – as well as the environmental impact of transporting and processing the returns.

Tsukamoto continues, “eCommerce fashion retailers have all the evidence they need to act and must turn to technology to support them in tackling the increasing volume of returns, which are costing both the planet and society – as well as hitting the pockets of retailers to the tune of millions of pounds.”

Tsukamoto adds, “It is clear to see that UK consumers are in a dilemma between sustainability and convenience. Retailers have a duty to help remedy the fashion industry’s sizing problem - a problem they have played a large role in creating. 

One effective way to achieve this is to ensure consumers have access to relevant sizing information and to harness accurate online sizing technology. Retailers may then be able to claw back lost profit, as well as positively impacting the environment.” 

Brands and retailers alike are under increasing pressure to provide the best customer experience, whilst demonstrating their commitment to sustainability. Consumers rightly expect assurances that they can be confident that their newest fashion purchase will fit as expected, whilst minimising any environmental damage.

It is time for retailers to step up and be part of the solution,” concludes Tsukamoto.

These new insights into the level of trust UK shoppers place in online sizing technology are part of an independent research project that surveyed 2,000 UK-based online shoppers. Participants had to have used online sizing technology whilst shopping online and purchased a minimum of 11 items of clothing online in the past 12 months. 

About the research methodology

The research was commissioned by Makip in March 2023 and surveyed 2,000 UK-based online shoppers to understand their experience of online sizing technology. 
Respondents to the survey had to have used online sizing technology whilst shopping online and purchased a minimum of 11 items of clothing online in the past 12 months. 
Two key objectives of the research were to understand:

  1. Whether UK consumers have any complaints/ concerns about the existing sizing technology on offer
  2. Whether UK consumers would accept retailers changing the ‘free returns’ policy to claw back some costs

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