E-commerce giveth with one hand, and taketh away with the other, so sayeth UPS, which is bracing for what it is calling “National Returns Day,” when online shoppers are expected to return some 1.3 million unwanted packages to retailers tomorrow, Jan. 5. The whole first week of the new year is shaping up to be a slog, however, with more than 5.8 million packages estimated to be heading back to warehouses by this weekend.
Following the 2015 holiday season, shoppers returned more than 1 million packages via UPS on National Returns Day in January 2016 and 5 million packages during that peak returns week. And while neither the U.S. Postal Service nor FedEx provide statistics for these specific days in 2017, all carriers are seeing huge volumes over the most recent season, and likely similar return rates as well, considering that UPS has a larger market share across the Atlantic and a larger share of its revenues come from Europe.
According to the UPS “Pulse of the Online Shopper” study, the integrator’s work is paying off. Between 2012 and 2016, consumers reported fewer issues paying for return shipping, down from 66 percent to 50 percent over the four-year period. There was a similar response for paying restocking fees and delays in receiving credits or refunds, as retailers streamlined their shopping experiences and volumes grew.
In the express and mail business, adapting to this trend is a continual challenge. And while the rates are improving, UPS’ own data suggest that 35 percent of online shoppers are still unhappy with the experience of returning or exchanging a purchase online. Those sorts of numbers would sink most brick-and-mortar stores, but consumers have different expectations for online shopping (although products like Amazon Prime are raising those as well).
UPS also found that 60 percent of online shoppers want free returns, and 44 expect easy-to-print return labels. Since online shoppers aren’t in the market for friendly neighborhood interaction, companies like UPS and FedEx are scrambling to accommodate.