Retail’s Success Strategies: A New Look Interview

How New Look introduced paid returns and improved its in-store returns experience with ZigZag in their own words
Mar 7
Retail’s Success Strategies: A New Look Interview

New Look has been a leader in women's fashion for over 50 years, boasting close to 400 stores across the UK & Ireland and an impressive online presence attracting hundreds of millions of visits per year. It is quickly becoming the go-to destination for womenswear with a well-loved catalogue of feel-good fashion at competitive prices.

We spoke to New Look’s Senior Product Manager Rachel Troke, who has been driving its returns process revival from the frontline to find out a little bit more about the relationship between New Look and ZigZag and some of the successes that have materialised from the partnership. You can view how New Look's portal looks here >>

The New Look Returns story

Like many retailers, New Look originally utilised its carrier network to get returns back. It wasn’t quite as primitive as a standard label-in-the-box returns solution but it wasn’t far from it.

“The process that we had before was that customers were sent to individual carriers to create their own labels. So, they needed to know upfront who it was that they wanted to have their return completed by and then they would be taken to that carrier website, where they then needed to input all their information again. Their order number, their address, their post codes, it was quite a long process before they eventually got a label back. So, it wasn't a great customer experience for our shoppers.”

The process also caused issues for New Look themselves. Without a seamless digital portal, return reasons were rarely collected accurately. This meant New Look couldn’t share valuable returns insight with its warehouse teams about when items were coming back or with its sourcing teams about potentially toxic products.

“The main issue that we had was that we weren't getting accurate returns reasons. The individual carrier portals weren't capturing any returns reasons, and so we were relying on the customer to complete the dispatch note and then put it in the parcel.

"They would put the dispatch note in the parcel, but nine times out of 10, they didn't put a reason code on it. It often meant we didn't really know why customers were returning; therefore, it was very difficult for us to understand what we needed to do to support customers in buying the right item first time.”

Why ZigZag?

“We knew early on we wanted to look at implementing a paid return process. After looking at a number of different suppliers of portals, we realised there were very few that actually allow you to take payment from the customer upfront. Most of them expect you to do the development work at your end to deduct it off the refund amount.”

In general, ZigZag advises against deducting from the refund amount. Even when it’s plastered across your website, customers will often forget or have managed to miss the warning when the refund hits their bank account. This leads to frustrated customers that lose trust in your brand and a costly jump in customer service enquiries that further tie up your team. Rachel confirmed other retailers she spoke with warned against this practice.

“Another reason why we chose ZigZag was because they promised a quick implementation time. And ZigZag delivered. From the beginning when we started to talk to ZigZag, to going live, it was around 32 days or so. It was super, super quick despite having a busy Christmas in between as well. There was also very little work on our side, which was great because we didn't have any development team that would be able to support with this. No delays, we went live as expected.”

“One final reason we decided to partner with ZigZag was because we have an extensive roadmap and ZigZag were keen to work with us to bring our ideas to life. Even though a lot of the ideas we had weren’t functional at the time, they were very keen to support with us with rolling it out.”

Introducing convenient drop-off kiosks

New Look rolled out a trial of innovative return kiosks, powered by ZigZag’s returns platform, across a small selection of the retailer’s stores stores in August of 2023. The kiosks provide a convenient and free return option for customers; in contrast to New Look’s online returns which have a small fee. The fashion retailer is expected to greatly reduce the amount of time spent by in-store staff processing returns, whilst improving data collection.

So, for customers of New Look, the returns process is as straightforward as ever. After entering their information in the returns portal and selecting the items and reason for returning, customers can choose ‘Return to Store’ as a return option and receive a QR code. No printer needed! The kiosks are easy to find in store and all the customer needs to do is scan another QR code on the kiosk and drop off their parcel. It’s that simple.

Rachel stated, “One of the key drivers for trialling the kiosks and changing the in-store returns process for Ecomm orders, was that we weren’t getting the right data from our customers on why they were returning. A lot of items were being marked down as unwanted. A trend that didn’t match up with what we were seeing with our online returns.”

ZigZag’s own data taken from over a hundred of the most renowned UK retailers showed that 67% of fashion returns over peak 2022/23 were due to sizing issues, a fact echoed in our subsequent consumer research. Returns made due to the item being unwanted or the customer changing their mind on the purchase represent less than a fifth of all returns generally.

Rachel continued, “We suspected that customers were perhaps shy to dive into the exact reason for making the return with the store colleague. It is very understandable for a customer to not want to discuss their potential sizing issues with a stranger. The in-store kiosks bring back that comforting anonymity you get with online returns for the customers whilst providing better data for our buying teams. We will now get close to 100% coverage across our eCommerce returns, collecting valuable data that will allow us to make smarter, more-informed decisions.”

New Look was one of the many retailers that moved to paid returns this year, albeit only through a small £2.50 charge, as brands look to recoup some of the cost associated with reverse logistics. However, New Look has never charged for returns processed in store, leading to it becoming an increasingly popular returns method this year. Rachel explained, “At close to 400 stores, we are quite accessible for most of our customers across the UK. So, it came as no surprise that less shoppers returned online after charging for online returns, and our in-store returns doubled as a result. Offering the free in-store option softened the blow of paid returns online and we've had loads of really positive feedback. With customers stating it's great that you've changed the in-store returns policy because we love it now. It's just so much easier.”

Did the promotion of Return to Store lead to fragmentation?

No two stores are the same. Naturally, New Look stores will differ in its available space and can’t stock every item in its vast catalogue, nor does New Look need to as styles often vary from region to region.

When asked if New Look has subsequently had an issue with fragmentation – where the product purchased online is returned to a store that doesn’t typically stock the item – Rachel noted, “We haven't got any fragmentation now because it's all going straight back to the DC [Distribution Centre] and the early indications are that it’s improved our online availability.

“Naturally, not every store can stock every online product, and some stores were getting stuck with those typically unstocked items because it was a New Look product. Whereas now, because it's an eCommerce return, it just all goes straight back to the DC rather than store colleagues trying to sort out what they stock in store and what they don't stock. It’s a great time saver.

“Before the Return to Store solution, in-store returns were handled depending on how busy colleagues were. The products could be put back out a little haphazardly, particularly if there were just a few pieces of each item. Then if it hadn't been cleared within a couple of weeks, it would be marked down and put on the sale rail. Our markdown rates have been positively impacted by the move to Return to Store.”

By championing Return to Store for its online returns, New Look have less products being marked down and provide them with the best chance of resell by moving them back online. New Look use the same delivery vehicles to get the returns back to the DC as the daily C&C order drop off, so it’s also quite economical.

New Look have no fragmentation now because goods all go back to the DC

The move to paid returns

After years of offering free returns, retailers are starting to realise that customers are open to sharing the burden of the returns cost. With the cost of doing business and inflation skyrocketing alongside some of the highest return rates ever, paid returns are becoming a necessity for many retailers.

New Look switched on paid returns in February 2023. The fee the fashion retailer charges its customers is a mere fraction of the price it actually costs to get returned goods back through the supply chain and back on the shelves, but customer reaction still had to be carefully monitored.

Rachel continued, “We’ve had virtually no contact from customers about the move to paid returns. We were not the first retailer to do it, which may have helped, and customers are generally understanding of the challenging climate retailers have found themselves in.

“Our high-value high-frequency customers shop about three to four times more with us a year than our normal customers. They are a key group of customers that naturally make up a huge amount of our sales, so they were the ones that we were really concerned about impacting. When monitoring this group of customers, we have not seen any drop in average order value, nor the overall number of orders placed. The frequency at which they shop has not dropped either. They are still coming back after realising they have to pay for returns.

“Our returns volumes against sales have reduced by 0.5%pt since moving to paid returns. So not only have we received little negative feedback from our customers, but we've managed to reduce our returns volumes without impacting sales.”

Tracking and customer satisfaction

Rachel commented, “We've seen a reduction in “where is my return?” queries of 20% since we've been able to facilitate better tracking. Before, when a customer would drop an item off at a Post Office, they didn't get anything else until their refund was processed. However, now they get the confirmation from ZigZag that it's been dropped off and they get another e-mail when it's been received by the distribution centre. It gives shoppers the reassurance that the return is still in the journey, and they don’t need to chase it yet. As a result, we have seen a reduction in these types of enquiries, which is a relief to our Customer Service Team.”

“One thing I’m particularly proud of is that our Trustpilot score has increased from 4.3 to 4.7 during the time we rolled out paid postal returns and changed the in-store returns process. We are delighted with the impact the convenient drop-off kiosks and improved tracking has had on our customer satisfaction.”

What’s next for New Look?

Rachel was enthusiastic about some of the new innovations ZigZag has brought to market over the last twelve months, stating, “I’m definitely excited for Refund to Gift Card. It's probably going to be our next biggest post-purchase initiative. Hopefully it will be live by early next year.

“It is a great way to try and retain refunds within the business. We know that a lot of customers simply want to try another size or another colour instead, and so this is a quick way for them to get their refunds and keep shopping. The benefit for us is that it keeps money in the business and encourages shoppers to spend it within New Look.”

Would you recommend ZigZag?

Rachel commented that, “ZigZag is so flexible. As a retailer, when you work with ZigZag you know you are getting a really supportive partner that will help you achieve your goals. ZigZag has allowed us to push the boundaries at developing our customer experience.
“ZigZag are my favourite people to work with. Nothing is ever too much trouble. If it's difficult to do something, Phil [ZigZag’s Senior Implementation Analyst] will find a way around it. We are really looking forward to rolling out new and exciting innovations with ZigZag in the future.”