I must admit, I don’t really understand return stress. I am almost exclusively online shopper for more than a decade now. Returns here are very easy, convenient and free. It takes literally a minute to pack things back - there is already prepared return label on a sticker, and box or bag also has already prepared resealing strip that you just have to peal protection from. Post office is 5 min walking distance from my home and it has a return drop box accessible 24/7 where you scan your return yourself, no need to interact with another person. Return window is short- only 14 days, but that is OK with me, I anyway make decision quickly, and you can return anything- no questions asked, there is no such a thing as final sale where you can’t return something. For most things I don’t pay upfront- I just pay for what I kept, also within 14 days, so you don’t have to wait for your money to be reimbursed.
On the other hand - B&M shopping is stressful to me and I avoid it. When you buy something in B&M store here contrary to online shopping, you cannot easily return it. Only if it is defective and you can only get store credit. If it turns out not to be comfortable, doesn’t go with the outfit you planned for or you changed your mind - tough luck - you are stuck with it. So I am always under lot of pressure in B&M store to make right decision quickly, and I made so many mistakes because of it. I was always baffled when in rare occasion when I was shopping in person and I would post pictures here asking for help and you guys would tell me take it home and play with it. If only...

anchie - I think your experience is pretty unique .Web returns in Canada Canadian stores most definitely do not work that way. And not having to pay up front ? That's quite incredible. I'm sitting staring at a pair of Zara boots I bought and don't want to keep, but have already cut the tag off (had to to separate them to try them on properly) . The thought of trying to request the return and hoping I don't get tossed in jail for not having an attached tag is making me want to go back to bed.

Wow, anchie, that is very different to anywhere I’ve ever lived as far as store policies. I wonder what the stores are thinking as far as allowing online returns so easily but never from in store.

The 24/7 access to a package drop off would be so amazing, too.

I think there is some EU law that regulates online shopping and returns that states that everything must be returnable within 14 days. B&M shops are not regulated in the same way and can do whatever they want. There maybe few exceptions where store allows return because they are trying to compete with online shops, but it is rare and not really clear. Hopefully there will be more.

I only order from stores that offer at least 30 days of free returns by default and send things back in the original packaging as anchie describes. That does limit my options in Canada but I've learned it's the only way online shopping works for me. I stopped ordering from Simons because they had a shorter return window for promotional "sale" items (I understand it for clearance items with a substantial discount, but if something was less than 20% off that's not a real sale in my eyes).

As for the in store shopping experience, is anchie maybe talking about local independent boutiques (vs chain stores)? I would say return policies are generally the same for those around here. It can be a drawback, but when I had a favourite local place with an owner who acted like a personal shopper, I didn't find my rate of dissatisfaction was any higher with those purchases than with stuff from major retailers. The fact that she was curating a small selection for the local demographic (knew her audience) and the personal service while shopping made up for the lack of flexibility because I was less likely to make a "mistake" in the first place. I'm not totally sure that generous return policies make people better shoppers, and they do add overhead costs for stores. Of course it's the only way the online model works.

Things are seldom black and white, aren't they! There is always another side to consider

I'm nodding along with anchie because I recognize the stress and difficulty of returning items in stores in Europe (and Asia). Been in that position a few times and try to avoid it. They generally give you a hard time without a refund. Returning online is different and a lot easier.

avicennia, you are right about that! Stores have to absorb the cost of returned stock which negatively affects their sales performance.

Agree with others saying that Anchie’s experience is not unique—pretty sure it is standard for at least this continent with its 436 million inhabitants (EU pop, vs 265 mil in US + Canada).

Here in Germany, I was surprised to learn that each storefront of a chain is considered its own unit. I’m not an accountant so won’t try to go into detail, but for most chains here, if you want to return something (I think 2 weeks is standard), you have to go back where you got it. No picking up a top at Esprit on Friedrichstraße and trying to return it to the Esprit store in the Mall of Berlin less than a mile away. (Exceptions are TK Maxx and, I think, Uniqlo).

Related, but in a different part of retail, grocery store coupons on customer loyalty cards are valid for the location that issued them, not the whole chain. We have a grocery store 350 m away, and another in the same chain 450 m in the opposite direction. I’ve pretty much stopped going to one of them, because it was too hard to remember which coupon was for which store.

The resistence to returns is also consistent across retail. For my son’s birthday, I wanted to get him a US football. They were sold out in one store I went to. On my way to a different sports store, I stopped at a Netto discount grocery store. They happened to have small Nerf-type footballs for €5. Not exactly what I was looking for, but I decided to get one as back-up, in case Intersport didn’t have any in stock. They did, so we didn’t need the first one. A few days later, when I went to return it at Netto, the cashier demanded to know what was wrong with it. I just said I didn’t need it the first time he asked, so he repeated the question. It was clearly unused and I had the receipt, so they accepted the return, but that bit of resistence was more than I ever got in Target, even more more expensive items.

I’ve never enjoyed getting things packed up to mail them back for a refund. The process here seems the same as in the US.