Can Retailers Make Us Stop Returning So Much Stuff?

Image courtesy of Geoff Fox

After the holiday shopping frenzy is over, frenzy season isn’t yet complete: in malls and in post offices alike, shoppers then go into an item-returning and gift-card-spending frenzy. Unfortunately, this costs retailers a lot of money. Instead of accepting the cost of returns as a recurring annual thing, can they find a way to reduce them?

As far as the holiday season goes, the ideal would be to make sure that people buy the gifts that they want in the first place instead of bearing the cost of returns afterward. Short of making gift card purchases and Amazon wish lists mandatory, we’re not really sure how to do this. Neither are retailers. That’s why they’re focusing on getting people to return fewer of the items that we buy for ourselves, especially online.

Specifically, they want you to stop buying three of the same item when ordering clothing and shoes online so you can keep the one that fits and send everything else back. One industry analyst explained to Bloomberg Businessweek that retailers actually hate having to accept so many items back, but no one wants to be the first to tighten their return policy.

Consumers will often buy sizes 2, 4, and 6 and return two of them. I remember talking to a retailer, who said, ‘I think free returns are a stupid policy. It’s not cost-effective for me.’ But everyone is terrified of losing market share, losing their customers.

Businessweek reports that online sales analytics help companies figure out which items tend to be sent back the most often and why, and virtual reality fit models can show shoppers how something would look on a model with their exact proportions. Neat.

Retailers Look to Technology to Trim Holiday Merchandise Returns [Bloomberg Businessweek]

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