Inside Logistics

Retailers giving shoppers more e-commerce returns options

A growing number of retailers are accepting rivals' returns


October 3, 2019
by Anne D'Innocenzio THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK – Ahead of the holiday season, shoppers have more options to return unwanted items bought online as retailers look for new ways to drive traffic.

Plenty of retailers like Target and Walmart allow shoppers to easily drop off online returns at their stores. But now, a growing number of retailers are accepting rivals’ returns.

Nordstrom’s new service hubs in Los Angeles and Manhattan accept returns of online orders from any retailer. In July, Kohl’s started accepting Amazon returns in all 1,100 stores, up from 100 previously.

Meanwhile, Happy Returns, a Santa Monica, California-based startup that works with about 30 online retailers, more than doubled the number of drop-off locations to 700.

The moves come as retailers aim to reduce costs while making it easier for shoppers to return online items. The average return rate for online transactions is 25 percent compared with 8 percent for store purchases, according to Forrester Research’s online analyst Sucharita Mulpuru.

Package delivery giant UPS is adding 12,000 pickup and return locations inside CVS, Michaels and Advance Auto Parts stores. The new locations will bring to 21,000 the number of pickup points UPS has in the U.S.

“Returning a product is annoying,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail. “If you can take some of the hassle by giving customers lots of options, that’s really customer service.”

Through a partnership with technology company Narvar, Walgreens now lets shoppers return online orders at more than 8,000 U.S. locations that have FedEx onsite to partners such as Levi Strauss and Urban Outfitters. Narvar’s concierge service also has drop-off locations at 15 Nordstrom stores for its retail partners. Narvar CEO Amit Sharma says shoppers have to bring in their packaging with the QR code, but in the next few months, the packaging will be available for a fee.

Meanwhile, Nordstrom’s service hubs – mini stores that do not have merchandise on hand – in Los Angeles and Manhattan allow shoppers to return online orders from any retailer. Customers bring the packaged items, with or without the preprinted return labels, and a salesperson will ship them out. There is no service fee. At the Amazon kiosks at Kohl’s, customers don’t need a box or a label for a free return.

Happy Returns lets customers return items from online retailers including Eloquii, Rothy’s and Everlane. Happy Returns “return bars” can be found at shopping centres and other retailers including most recently all 276 Cost Plus World Markets. In return for serving as host for Happy Returns, its online retailer partners promote the locations and offer customers coupons and other deals.

Happy Returns is eliminating cardboard boxes used to ship bulk returns to retailers and substituting them with reusable totes made from recycled plastic. In an effort to reduce waste and make the return process easier, Target is in the process of eliminating packing slips from all orders shipped directly to customers from stores and fulfilment centres.

Shoppers are increasingly able to have a return get picked up inside their home. Walmart says it will launch such a return service later this year but didn’t offer any details. It’s all part of how retailers are focusing more on in-home deliveries and other services. In June, Walmart announced it would have one of its employees deliver fresh groceries and put them in your refrigerator when you’re not home. It launched its in-home delivery service in three cities: Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Missouri, and Vero Beach, Florida.

Many digital natives are offering free in-home return pick up services, according to AlixPartners, a consulting company. For example, online mattress company Casper offers a 100-night free trial for its mattresses. If someone would like to return their mattress, its customer service team takes care of removing the mattress from the customer’s home at no cost and issuing a full refund. The returned mattress does not go in a box when picked up, according to Casper.