Online shoppers have urged retailers to clarify returns policies and offer longer returns windows after a new survey revealed consumers are sitting on a potential £2.4bn of unreturned goods.

The 'lockdown logjam' has been worsened by lockdowns restrictions, the research by locker network InPost found, making returning unwanted items much harder.

Over a quarter (29%) of shoppers surveyed said retailers should issue refunds for returned goods more quickly during the current restrictions. They also said they are more likely to check how long they have to return items and how many options retailers offer for returning items when making purchases.

Over half (57%) say returning items bought online is time-consuming and a hassle given lockdown restrictions, and (45%) say retailers need to make returning goods easier in the current circumstances.

Over half of those with items to return (51%) say they have accumulated more items to return over the course of the January lockdown than they would typically.

The new data – based on a survey of over 2,000 UK adults conducted at the end of January – finds that those who have unwanted purchases have an average of three items waiting to be returned, with a total approximate value of £165 per person.

Online shoppers also indicate that social distancing when undertaking returns remains a concern. Over half (54%) say they are concerned about coming into contact with other people at a Post Office, parcel drop-off shop or when in a store to return goods, and nearly two-thirds (62%) say retailers need to have a contact-free returns option.

In addition, almost two-thirds (65%) say they don’t want to spend time queuing at Post Offices or parcel drop-off shops to return items; in contrast 42% say that having a parcel drop-off point near their home would encourage them to make a return sooner than they would normally.

Respondents also said they are now more likely to check how long they have to return items and how many options retailers offer for returning items when making purchases.

Just over half of people (53%) say they are spending the same as usual during the lockdown – excluding online food, take-away or grocery orders – while 41% indicate that they are being more cautious. Around a fifth (19%) plan to increase their spending once lockdown restrictions lift, suggesting that retailers could see a potential uplift in sales again as lockdown comes to an end.

Jason Tavaria, UK chief executive at InPost, commented: “It’s crucial that retailers go the extra mile for their customers and make it easier and faster for them to return goods. Giving people access to more ways of returning online shopping, including self-service drop-off points such as lockers, will help them to avoid queues and get items and their money back more quickly.

“The issue of difficult returns appears to be even more acute for the nation’s key workers, including healthcare and emergency service staff. This group told us that they have more items waiting to be returned, find it harder to return them given the current restrictions, and are more likely to end up keeping purchases bought online because returning them was too difficult. With most returns options remaining impractical for them, we’re continuing to roll out lockers in locations such as hospitals and supermarkets that offer key workers easy access to a safe and secure way to make parcel deliveries and returns, outside of traditional working hours.”