A new puzzle for pandemic-era ecommerce: Dealing with returns

Retailers may see a sudden influx of sad, lonely cardboard boxes.


May 6, 2020

Throw a couple of corona trends into a blender, and you’ve got a recipe for a “perfect storm,” declares Vogue Business:

Small businesses spinning up ecommerce solutions to keep the lights on + big ones reporting surging online sales + retailers dangling deals to hang on to customers, pleeeease = a ticking time bomb.

If they haven’t seen them already, in a few weeks, retailers may suddenly see an influx of sad, lonely cardboard boxes.

It’s another consequence of the COVID marketplace

Managing returns is challenging — so much so that some companies’ business models are all about making them smoother. Doing it well can mean happy customers — and returning ones.

With shopping habits shifting online, returns are more important than ever:

  • Shoppers return 10% of what they buy in a store, but as much as 40% of what they buy online.
  • Americans returned ~$400B in merchandise in 2018.

So far, Vogue Business says there’s not a clear return trend, though a shakeout could be coming:

  • Narvar, a retail tech company, says it’s seen online return volume rise 2x in the past month.
  • Optoro, a returns-solutions provider, has seen a 20% decrease in average weekly returns.

One theory for the fluctuations: Some brands have relaxed their return policies. As more states ease social distancing rules, returns could come flooding back.

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