Returns are the unsung antiheroes of the e-commerce saga, but this holiday season, they’re getting their moment in the spotlight, because it turns out that for all the advantages of shopping online, nothing beats the old-fashioned dressing room.
“E-commerce’s painless return policies are duping us,” wrote Slate.com’s Inkoo Kang. “And I’m fine with it.”
Simply put, e-commerce still hasn’t figured out a way to ensure that purchases actually meet customers’ expectations, although online-profiling and virtual fitting rooms have come a long way.
Kang, and millions of other online shoppers, might be “fine with it,” but returns are a growing concern for logistics companies – they are costly and, on a macro-level, they certainly warrant a reconsideration of those record sales numbers, with some fulfillment experts estimating that the return rate for online apparel purchases is close to 40 percent.
According to Accenture, apparel accounted for 78 percent of gifts in the United States during this year’s holiday season, which translated into millions of returned items of apparel.
Those trends drove more than 1 million returns via UPS each day before Christmas this year. UPS anticipates 1.4 million returns on National Returns Day, January 3 – which would be an 8 percent rise over last year’s post-holiday rush.
“While the day after Christmas used to be reserved for long return lines at department stores, the growth of e-commerce has changed when and how consumers return gifts,” said Alan Gershenhorn, UPS’s chief commercial officer. In response, Gershenhorn said UPS was expanding its suite of e-commerce services to help shippers. “This season, UPS added Returns Manager, a free platform that allows e-commerce merchants to customize return shipments according to their e-tailer policy,” he said.
The returns processed by UPS this season are part of the 750 million packages UPS is projected to deliver between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, a nearly 40-million-parcel increase from last year.