Trustpilot announcements
December 4, 2023

Bulk Buy and Return: A quarter of Americans admit to buying more to save on shipping costs only to return the extras

Additionally, nearly half of Americans remain steadfast in their opinion that they would not shop from a retailer that doesn’t offer free returns – likely because they are planning to return items they never intended to purchase

December 4, 2023, NEW YORK, USA – Today, leading online review platform Trustpilot released the findings of their ‘Refunds and Returns’ research, highlighting the impact returns fees have had on consumer behavior, the loopholes customers take advantage of to get free shipping, as well as the lengths consumers are willing to go to save money this shopping season. Findings also reveal that there is an opportunity for businesses to increase trust with customers ahead of the busiest buying season to drive sales. 

Make returns free for customers

Thirty-five percent (35%) of respondents say it’s a bad idea to charge customers for returns and forty-nine (49%) stated they do not shop from retailers that charge a fee to return items. Thirty-five percent (35%) admitted to currently being a “serial returner,” with thirty percent (30%) stating they used to be. When asked why they are no longer a serial returner, forty-seven percent (47%) said because of the introduction of returns fees. As more retailers implement fees into their strategies, this could be detrimental to their success, as instead, customers are now looking for ways around the added spend. 

It’s not just returns – customers want free shipping too

That said, customers are looking for loopholes for shipping costs, with forty percent (40%) of respondents saying they purchase additional items online to hit the total spend to qualify for free shipping. On average, consumers admit to spending an extra $34.88 to hit the threshold for free shipping for an order. These unnecessary purchases are likely to be returned as well. One quarter (25%) said they ‘always’ buy items online to ensure their total spending exceeds the amount needed to qualify for free shipping knowing they will intentionally return the ‘extra’ items.

Additionally, thirty-six percent (36%) noted they ‘often’ do it. Only 6% said they ‘never’ do it, which means that more than 9 in 10 consumers are purposefully purchasing more to qualify for free shipping with no intention of keeping the extra items. This trend is being driven by the younger generations, with ninety-seven percent of Gen Zers and ninety-four percent of Millennials admitting they do this. 

Analyzing keywords within reviews on Trustpilot, they’ve also found that the top 5 categories, in the first three quarters of this year,  in which consumers mention refunds/or returns, are: 

  1. Shopping and fashion (42,465 reviews)

  2. Travel and vacation (9,454 reviews)

  3. Money and insurance (9,150 reviews)

  4. Vehicles and transportation (9,060 reviews)

  5. Electronics and technology (8,876 reviews)

“Free shipping and returns continue to be a priority for consumers, yet the retail industry has drastically shifted over the past year, leaving customers frustrated with the addition of charges during a time when, economically, they simply can’t afford it,” said Vincent Petrillo, VP Commercial for North America at Trustpilot. “With seventy-seven percent of Americans stating that a retailer’s returns policy has an influence on how trustworthy they perceive that retailer to be, it’s more important than ever for retailers to put transparency at the forefront of their returns strategy, especially during such a high-stress buying season.”

As financial pressures feel even more intense this time of year, consumers are not above finding creative ways to save money. In fact, consumers admitted to engaging in “infractions” to save money, including:

  • Lie to customer service about not receiving an entire package, so a second one ships free of charge – 49%

  • Lie to a retailer that an order has a missing item to get a second one for free – 45%

  • Tell your credit card company a purchase you made is fraudulent – 44%

  • Try to return a product you damaged, but tell the retailer it arrived that way – 42%

  • Fake an illness or death to get a returns extension – 37%

Retailers should also be on the lookout for heavily used items being returned, as many admitted to considering using the following more than once and returning post-holiday season to save money:  

  • Food and Beverage - 48% 

  • Gift Wrapping - 47% 

  • Cooking and Baking Supplies - 46%

  • Decorations - 45% 

Discover more of the research findings and get guidance on the world of returns here.

For a complete guide to this holiday season, visit the Trustpilot Holiday Hub.



All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from OnePoll. Total sample size was 2,000 U.S. adults who shop online. Fieldwork was undertaken between November 17-21, 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all U.S. adults age 18+. 

About Trustpilot

Trustpilot was founded in 2007 with a vision to create an independent currency of trust.

A digital platform that brings businesses and consumers together to foster trust and inspire collaboration. We are free to use, open to everybody, and built on transparency.

Trustpilot hosts reviews to help consumers shop with confidence and deliver rich insights to help businesses improve the experience they offer. The more consumers use our platform and share their own opinions, the richer the insights we offer businesses, and the more opportunities they have to earn the trust of consumers, from all around the world.

Over 238 million consumer reviews of businesses and products of over 980,000 domains have been posted on Trustpilot, and those numbers are growing by more than one review per second.  

Trustpilot has over 850 employees and is headquartered in Copenhagen, with operations in New York, Denver, London, Edinburgh, Melbourne, Berlin, Vilnius, Milan, and Amsterdam. 

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