Has COVID-19 exacerbated online return challenges?
A survey from Inmar Intelligence finds 88 percent of U.S. consumers planning to continue to shop online to avoid crowds, yet 40 percent have held back on purchasing online due to complicated returns processes.
Other findings from the survey:
- Forty-two percent shared that they now mail their returns due to COVID-19;
- Eighty-nine percent of consumers indicated that they wanted to receive returns-status updates via e-mail and/or text;
- Fifty-six percent think it’s easy to return online purchases, yet 58 percent prefer to return purchases in a store.
“The dramatic increase in online shopping means retailers will have to assess their preparedness to handle higher returns volume,” said Ken Bays, VP of product development at Inmar Intelligence, in a statement.
Since the pandemic’s emergence, e-commerce revenues have been running 40 to 60 percent higher through the end of May, according to various reports. Many retail observers are concluding that the store closures and restrictions will significantly accelerate the adoption of online buying.
EMarketer recently predicted online sales would expand 18 percent this year.
“Everything we’re seeing with e-commerce is unprecedented, with growth rates expected to surpass anything we’ve seen since the Great Recession,” said eMarketer analyst Andrew Lipsman. “Certain e-commerce behaviors like online grocery shopping and click-and-collect have permanently catapulted three or four years into the future in just three or four months.”
Estimates for returns of online purchases range from 15 to over 30 percent, with items such as apparel at the high end of that range. That compares with return rate estimates ranging from three to 10 percent for in-store purchases.
Amid the pandemic, retailers are extending return windows given the challenges of returning product to stores. Stores are also setting aside items for at least 24 hours or thoroughly steam-cleaning them to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Retailers also face longer-term return challenges, such as high expectations for free online returns and the time-consuming steps involved in returning items to selling floors.
- Intelligence Survey Uncovers Consumer Frustration With Complicated Returns Processes Amid COVID-19 May Impact Online Sales – Inmar Intelligence/MarketWatch
- US Retail Sales to Drop More than 10% in 2020 – eMarketer
- COVID-19 Accelerated E-Commerce Growth ‘4 To 6 Years’ – Forbes
- Overcoming the Pandemic Returns Challenge – Retail Leader
- Costco is refusing returns on hoarded items – RetailWire
- Return policy adjustments due to COVID-19 vary by store – WPRI
- Are return rates out of control? – RetailWire
- Retailers face another challenge during coronavirus: Handling returns – CNBC
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What new challenges has COVID-19 created for returns? What further steps should retailers take to ease the online returns process for consumers and optimize it for themselves?