New options to return online purchases
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 return at their brick-and-mortar stores items bought from them online. But now, a growing number of retailers are accepting even rivals’ returns.
In July, Kohl’s started accepting Amazon returns in all 1,100 stores, up from 100 previously. Furthermore, at the Amazon kiosks at Kohl’s, customers don’t need a box or a label for a free return.
Meanwhile, Happy Returns, a California-based startup that works with about 30 online retailers, more than doubled the number of its drop-off locations to 700. They also allow shoppers to return online orders in person without a box or label.
These moves come as retailers aim to reduce costs while making it easier for shoppers to return items purchased on websites. The average return rate for online transactions is 25% compared with 8% for store purchases, according to Forrester Research.
Inside store drop-offs
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 away some of the hassle by giving customers lots of options, that’s really customer service.”
But Saunders and others note that shoppers making returns need to make sure that they don’t miss the return deadline.
Here are three tips for returning online orders:
—Know the rules when returning goods from rivals. Through a partnership with technology company Narvar, Walgreens now lets shoppers return online orders to partners such as Levi Strauss and Urban Outfitters at more than 8,000 Walgreens locations that have FedEx onsite. Narvar’s concierge service also has drop-off locations at 15 Nordstrom stores for its retail partners.
Narvar CEO Amit Sharma said shoppers have to bring in their original packaging with the QR code, but in the next few months, 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.
Happy Returns lets customers return items from online retailers including Eloquii, Rothy’s and Everlane. Happy Returns’ “return bars” can be found at shopping centers 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.
—Look for eco-friendly alternatives. Happy Returns is eliminating cardboard boxes used to ship bulk returns to retailers, substituting 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 fulfillment centers.
To return an online purchase, customers can mail the items back using a link within their shipping confirmation email or Target.com account, or by looking up the order using the Target app or the card they used for purchase when making a return at a store.
—Consider return service at home. Shoppers are increasingly able to have a return picked up inside their home. Walmart said 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.