Most returned products work fine, study says

Only 5 per cent of consumer electronics products returned to retailers are malfunctioning - yet many people who return working products think they are broken, a new study indicates.

The report by technology consulting and outsourcing firm Accenture pegs the costs of consumer electronics returns in 2007 at $13.8 billion in the United States alone, with return rates ranging from 11 per cent to 20 per cent, depending on the type of product.

Accenture estimates that 68 per cent of returns are products that work properly but do not meet customers' expectations for some reason. "Either they thought it was defective when it wasn't, or there was an expectation gap," says Accenture executive Terry Steger.

The study attributes another 27 per cent of returns to buyer's remorse - situations where customers simply changed their minds. That leaves only 5 per cent of returns that are attributable to defects or other malfunctions.

Steger believes that the return rates for functional products would decline significantly if vendors and retailers invested more in making them easier to set up and use, and in educating buyers.

"I don't believe the returns issue is the result of lax retail return policies, or customers taking advantage of the ability to return," he says.

Rather, he says, high return rates often point to problems with products.

Complicated set-up is one issue: The Accenture report cites a 2006 study by Dutch scientist Elke den Ouden, which determined that the average US consumer spends only 20 minutes trying to make a device work before giving up and returning it to the seller.

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