Returns are increasingly a part of the shopping experience, particularly online with nearly half (48%) of shoppers surveyed saying that they’d returned an online purchase in the last year, according to research from post-purchase solutions firm Narvar. Another half (49%) of shoppers check a retailer’s return policy before completing an online transaction.
Shoppers buy multiple items with the intent to return some of them (especially when it comes to apparel and home goods), a practice Narvar refers to as “bracketing.” On average, 40% of shoppers “bracket” their purchases at least occasionally, with 45% of those under 30 and 48% of those with incomes over $100,000 bracketing their online purchases. Apparel is returned most often (43%), according to the survey of nearly 700 shoppers.
A great majority of shoppers surveyed said that restocking fees (84%) or return shipping fees (74%) would prevent them from making a purchase. Some are even pickier: 22% said they wouldn’t make the purchase if they couldn’t return to a store. By the same token, 72% said that a retailer’s "no questions asked" return policy makes them more likely to buy.
Returns are a costly headache for retailers, but they’re a nuisance for shoppers as well. Getting an item back to a retailer for a refund is a source of anxiety for some — enough to prevent a purchase, Narvar found. But the flip side is sweet: Shoppers prone to returns are also the most likely to buy again. The vast majority (82%) of those who returned an item were repeat customers.
The ante is increased when it comes to e-commerce. Ordering multiple items with the certain knowledge that the majority of a purchase will be returned —as when an online shopper orders a size up, her size, and/or a size down to try on at home, what Narvar calls "the new dressing room" — sounds like a logistical nightmare for both buyer and seller. But it’s become a routine way for shoppers to make e-commerce work for them. There's yet another upside to easier returns however: those most likely to treat their own bedroom mirror like a dressing room are also among a retailer’s favorite customers — younger, wealthier and female, according to the study.
Some of this is about alleviating friction. Well over a quarter (29%) of shoppers Narvar surveyed said they worry their return will be lost in the mail, while 21% found it frustrating to check on the return status. For retailers, things won’t be getting much easier, considering that 48% of shoppers aged 21 to 29 say that online returns are a hassle, topping the 25% for all age groups, and way above the average 16% for those 60 and older.
But returns also present opportunities for retailers. Policies that assuage such anxieties — like a 30-day return window or the ability to track a return and receive status updates — mean shoppers are more likely to buy again. “Retailers need to over-deliver with new customers who return their first purchase to keep their business,” according to the report.
Amazon gets great props from customers regarding its return policy even though, unlike other retailers, the e-commerce giant requires shoppers to print out their own return labels and sometimes track down a marketplace retailer for the return. Yet despite Amazon’s more convoluted process, shoppers appreciate the transparent approach to the return status and refund, and give Amazon high marks. Almost half of those surveyed (47%) said that their last return was with Amazon, and a whopping 75% were satisfied with the returns experience.
But Amazon doesn’t possess one of shoppers’ favorite return modes—the brick and mortar store. Some 43% of those who “bracket” purchases want to be able to return online purchases to a store, with 38% preferring to return to a nearby store whenever possible. Nearly half (47%) say it’s easier to return to a store. More than a third (35%) like it because they get their refunds right away, while 28% say they want to shop for other items while they’re in the store.
For this research, Narvar collaborated with retail analyst Sucharita Mulpuru and surveyed a randomly selected, unweighted sample of 677 U.S. online shoppers between the ages of 21 and 65 who had returned an online purchase in the last 12 months (not including subscription services with returns built in, like StitchFix or Rent the Runway).