Social media is proving to be a double-edged sword for fashion retailers.

While content posted by consumers and influencers to popular social platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube has been proven to drive sales, a “snap and send back” trend driven by social media could be costing retailers in the UK billions of pounds in sales annually.

As the phrase alludes to, ‘snap and send back’ refers to the act of purchasing a product, wearing it for a photo posted on social media, and then sending it back, for a refund of course.

According to a study conducted at the behest of Barclaycard, 9% of UK shoppers admit they’ve purchased an item of clothing solely for the purpose of taking a photo that can be posted to social media. 

Interestingly, Barclaycard’s survey might underestimate the extent of Snap and send back because it only polled consumers between the ages of 35 and 44. As younger consumers are more prolific users of social media, it’s entirely possible that even higher percentages of these consumers are engaging in this behavior.

“It’s interesting to see the social media trend further fueling the returns culture,” George Allardice, the Head of Strategy for Barclaycard Payment Solutions, stated. “We know from our research that returns are having a big impact on retailers, with a huge figure of seven billion pounds a year in sales that they potentially can’t recognise.”

That’s a lot of money and while not all returns are driven by Snap and send back, the trend is one that retailers would be wise not to ignore. Where appropriate, they might even want to take action.

Here are several potential responses retailers can consider.

Change returns policies.

Snapping and sending back is largely made possible by the generous returns policies retailers have offered to woo customers. As such, one of the ways retailers can deal with the problem is to modify their returns policies to discourage the behavior.

Of course, this must be done with tact, as a less attractive returns policy can influence purchasing decisions. For fashion retailers in particular, free returns are a recommended practice, for obvious reasons. But if push comes to shove, one possibility retailers can consider is to institute more stringent returns policies with items they have identified as Snap and send back victims.

Identify and penalize abusers.

Instead of making broad changes to their returns policies, retailers can look to identify customers whose return history suggests they are snapping and sending back. Once identified, retailers can issue a warning and if the behavior persists, take action to prevent further abuse.

Many retailers already do this but with the Snap and send back behavior growing, the number of consumers who might find themselves in retailers’ cross hairs is growing and retailers must consider the risk of public backlash, particularly when they take action against influencers who can share their ire with legions of followers.

Embrace new business models.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. While Snap and send back presents retailers with challenge, it could also present some of them with the opportunity to adopt new business models, such as the clothing rental model popularized by services like Rent the Runway.

They might also find inspiration in the discounting model used by some subscription box services. Stitch Fix, for instance, offers a 25% discount when customers keep all five items in their box.

Merchandise with Snap and send back in mind

To convince customers to keep their products, retailers can make a greater effort to demonstrate that items have utility beyond the Gram. For instance, a retailer can ensure that product pages for popular items contain content highlighting their versatility. If customers see how a popular item of clothing can be combined with other items to create different looks, it could not only help deter Snap and send back, it could help sell other items.

Do nothing.

Sometimes, the best action is no action. Retailers will want to look at their specific returns trends, and if Snap and send back behavior is identified, to the extent possible, calculate what, if any, amount of it is offset by increased sales driven by social media postings.

In most cases, it will be impossible for retailers to develop a precise calculus, but those with the most data are seemingly best positioned to make good gut judgment calls about where to draw the proverbial line.