British retailers who sell goods online to the EU are refusing to accept returns, arguing that the cost since Brexit is too high to make the transaction worth it.
Some retailers have already decided the cost of accepting returned goods is too high, and are preferring to refuse the return and write off the goods as lost in transit.
At the same time, online shoppers in the EU have since 1 January been faced with an invoice for customs charges, now payable under the new deal between the former member state and the rest of the EU.
“It’s part of the ongoing small print of the deal,” said Adam Mansell, chief executive of the UK Fashion & Textile Association (UKFT), which represents the clothing industry.
“If you’re in Germany and buying goods from the UK, you as the German customer are the importer bringing goods into the EU. You then have a courier company knocking on the door giving you a customs clearance invoice that you need to pay to receive your goods.”
The result in many cases is that the customer refuses to accept the goods, and the courier has to take them away again.
But before the rejected goods – as well as the 30% of all online sales which are returned for other reasons – can come back to the seller, they must first pass through another set of obstacles to get back into the UK.
“Export clearance charge, import charge arrival, import VAT charge and depending on the goods a rules of origin document as well,” Mansell told the BBC. “Lots of large businesses don’t have a handle on it, never mind smaller ones.”
According to documents seen by the BBC, four large retailers are stockpiling returned goods in customs warehouses in Belgium, Ireland and Germany rather than pay the charges. In one case, the company has already run up a bill of £20,000 (€22,480).
And while some small retailers have already decided no longer to ship to the EU market, with more still considering, business selling in the other direction are moving the same way.
The Belgian-based beer website Beer on Web opens its site with the stark announcement: “Due to the new Brexit measures, we can no longer ship to the UK”.
And the specialist supplier of bicycle parts Dutch Bike Bits states on its site: “While we can still ship to every other country in the world we unfortunately can no longer ship goods to the UK after December 31 2020 due to new import tax rules in the UK. This is not a choice that we have made but the result of a choice made by the British government. Please do not ask for an exception to be made.”