Bathroom and kitchen retailers’ returns policies give ParcelHero a sinking feeling


This article is brought to you by Retail Technology Review: Bathroom and kitchen retailers’ returns policies give ParcelHero a sinking feeling.

Kitchen and bathroom stores selling ceramic items such as sinks and toilets must change their rules for customer returns, says the large and heavy parcels specialist ParcelHero.

The parcel price comparison site believes changes need to be made in retailers’ terms and conditions to reduce the number of items damaged or delayed on their way back to the store. ParcelHero claims some retailers are charging prohibitive amounts for organising returns for large items such as baths and sinks, or imposing needless red tape to protect cosmetic packaging that risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Explains ParcelHero’s Head of Consumer Research, David Jinks MILT: ‘Products such as sinks and toilets are delivered in packaging designed for transporting and handling in specialist vehicles. Large kitchen and bathroom products’ packaging works perfectly for these deliveries; but is often inadequate for being placed with a normal courier network for return. If the buyer decides a sink or toilet is the wrong colour or doesn’t fit, returning large ceramic products can be a significant problem – especially if the retailer doesn’t provide a specialist return service or charges a prohibitive amount for returns.’

Says David: ‘Original manufacturers and retailers’ packaging is not designed to withstand courier network’s regular loading and unloading of items onto vans and trucks, and on and off conveyor belts at courier depots and warehouses. Extra packaging and protection is highly likely to be needed for such items over-and-above the packaging it was originally delivered in.

We strongly recommend anyone returning a heavy item using a courier reads our comprehensive guide to packaging and shipping large and heavy parcels. And meanwhile the problem is being exacerbated by the needlessly strict return requirements by some well-known retailers of kitchen and bathroom equipment. It’s time manufacturers and retailers threw the kitchen sink at the problem and re-wrote their rules.’

Says David: ‘Where retailers do organise returns for unwanted items the cost can be prohibitive. One advises “Please note that our minimum charge for this collection service is 15% of the order value and may be more depending on your location and Product type.’ 15% may add up to a significant amount based on expensive bathroom furniture.  

Another well-known retailer has a hefty blanket £50 fee for arranging returns on larger items, Perhaps the most eyebrow raising terms we have seen is a clause from one seller that says: “If collection of an item is required, we will charge you the cost of collection. The cost of collection is calculated based on the product [size and weight] and the collection location. Currently, the maximum cost is £1,000 for collection of 20 radiators from the Outer Hebrides. For other products and locations, this may well be lower. You will be notified of the cost at the time of cancellation.”

And those stores which do let their customers choose their own return service frequently impose terms and conditions that make it very difficult to return items packaged robustly enough to be secure when shipped by courier.

Among return requirements from the biggest suppliers ParcelHero has seen the following conditions:

  • ‘The returns number must be clearly highlighted on the outside of the package in such a way that it does not damage the original retail packaging.’
  • ‘All Products must be returned to us in their original packaging. If they are not returned in their original packaging, we may reduce the amount refunded to you to reflect this.’
  • ‘We do ask that any goods that are in sealed packaging are clearly visible without the need to open the packaging.’
  • ‘Wrap the item in the original packaging clearly marking your return number on a separate sheet. Do not mark your original packaging’

David explains: ‘Large fragile items containing glass, ceramics or porcelain, including bath ware such as sinks and toilets, should not be shipped via courier unless they are professionally packaged and palletised. Of course, retailers want to protect the value of their returned stock, and for that reason are anxious to ensure original packaging is not marked or altered.

But many products will need placing in a triple lined carboard box, with adequate cushioning material so there is no movement or space inside the box. Large fragile items such as ceramic sinks should be fully suspended inside the box. All of this means the original packaging will need to be supplemented and possibly altered protect its contents. A typical toilet weighs around 30kg and a bathroom suite around 75kg. We strongly recommend putting any goods over 50kg in weight on a pallet for the safest journey.'

Shoppers planning to return items through a courier also need to be aware of couriers’ own rules surrounding returns of ceramic goods such as sinks and toilets. One retailer advises: You’ll need to arrange and pay for the courier, you should also make sure the product is insured with the courier and securely packaged for the journey. Says David: ‘ Here it’s important to realise that furniture and ceramics are designated non-compensation items by ParcelHero. A non-compensation item does not qualify for automatic enhanced cover for damage, as is the case with a standard delivery.

However, we can offer damage cover when sending a large parcel or heavy delivery in the UK and abroad, even if it contains sinks, toilets or other excluded items, if customers provide supporting images by email prior to booking. If our evaluators confirm that return items are packaged sufficiently well for collection by our heavy parcel couriers, damage cover can be confirmed.’

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