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11/19/2021

Survey: Retailers expect high number of holiday returns

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Retailer holiday optimism is down as return expectations rise.

Retailers are lagging in their return services even as they expect a good number of customers to return holiday gifts.

That’s according to the “2021 Holiday Returns Insight” survey from data-driven technology-enabled services company Inmar Intelligence in which  39% of respondents said they expect a return rate of 10% or less when asked to estimate their expected return rate (units returned versus units purchased) for the upcoming holiday season. Another 30% expect their return rate to be in the range of 11%-20%, while 31% expect returns to exceed 20%.

Fewer than six in 10 respondents (58%) accept online purchase returns in-store or offer instant credit for returns. Fewer than half (47%) of respondents provide in-store offers or coupons for returns. When a consumer does return an item, only 66% of respondents provide customers with at least one or two updates on their return status.

When it comes to shipping, 20% of respondents offer free shipping on minimum orders of $10 or less, while nearly 70% offer free shipping for minimum cart prices of $50 or less. Seven in 10 respondents provide buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) options for their customers.

The survey also reveals that multiple factors are dampening retailer optimism for the holiday season, with 52% of surveyed retailers optimistic that they can meet and potentially exceed demand this year compared to the 2020 holiday season. Less optimistic respondents expressed concerns regarding existing supply chain constraints, transportation partners, insufficient labor, and increased competition.

According to the “2021 State of Shipping Report” from multi-carrier e-commerce shipping software provider Shippo, shipping is an item causing widespread concern among retailers as the holidays approach. Shipping was mentioned in 23% of responses from surveyed retailers to the question, “What keeps you up at night when it comes to readying your business for the 2021 holiday season?”

More respondents expressed concern about holiday shipping than in 2020. When asked how confident they are that the carriers they use for shipping will keep up with demand amid the holiday season, 41% of respondents were somewhat confident (compared to 47% in 2020) and 23% were somewhat not confident (compared to 18% in 2020). Eighteen percent were very confident compared to 22% in 2020, and 8% were significantly not confident compared to 4% in 2020. Ten percent had no opinion, similar to 8% in 2020.

“The holiday shopping season has always been a staple in the retail industry as retailers rely on the high volume of sales,” said Rob Zomok, executive VP and president of SupplyTech at Inmar Intelligence. “However, a crucial part of the customer experience and success of retailers is dependent on their ability to process and track returns at an efficient rate. With customers shopping both in-store and online at higher rates this season, this will be an important test for retailers.”