The third annual “Returns Happen” study, released by Happy Returns, has revealed a significant shift in consumer preferences when it comes to returning purchased items.

The study, which surveyed 2,000 consumers and 200 enterprise retailers, indicates that in-person, box-free returns are gaining traction, with 67% of consumers ranking them as their top choice, marking a 26% increase from the previous year.

Additionally, the study highlights that 90% of consumers are less inclined to shop with retailers offering mail returns as the sole return option.

Retailers respond to rising returns with fees

The rise in the popularity of in-person returns can be attributed, in part, to retailers introducing or increasing return fees as they grapple with the growing number of product returns.

The study reveals that 81% of retailers implemented fees for at least one return method in the past 12 months.

The impact of these fees varies among retailers, with some experiencing a negative impact on sales and customer satisfaction. Meanwhile, others have managed to reshape their return policies to foster customer loyalty and reduce costs.

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Happy Returns vice-president and co-founder David Sobie noted: “Retailers are exploring new strategies to mitigate the adverse effects of returns while catering to shoppers’ needs and maintaining their loyalty. This year’s study underscores that retailers can strike a balance by providing in-person, box-free returns through an extensive network of locations, featuring real-time item validation and immediate refunds.”

Consumers prefer choice and free returns

The “Returns Happen” report underscores that what consumers desire most is choice, preferably with a free return option. Among retailers that introduced new return fees, 59% witnessed an increase in shoppers selecting the free return option they offered.

Furthermore, more than 80% of consumers check a retailer’s return policy before making their initial purchase and 55% have abandoned their shopping carts if the return policy wasn’t convenient.

Factors influencing return behaviours

  • Location and proximity matter: The study also highlights that location and proximity are key factors influencing return behaviours. Consumers are more likely to return items if a nearby location is available to them. A remarkable 94% of surveyed shoppers are willing to travel up to two miles and 82% up to five miles for an in-person return. Moreover, 68% of shoppers are more inclined to shop with retailers offering in-person returns at convenient, nearby locations.
  • Combatting return fraud: Return fraud is a major concern for retailers, with 99% of them identifying it as a significant issue. Return fraud involves returning merchandise to a retailer for a refund in violation of the retailer’s return policy. Retailers are exploring various strategies to tackle this issue, such as requiring individual item scanning and verification before issuing a refund, as offered by Happy Returns at its Return Bar network of more than 10,000 locations.

In summary, the “Returns Happen” study demonstrates the evolving landscape of consumer preferences and retailer strategies in response to the challenges posed by returns.

The data indicates a clear trend towards in-person, box-free returns and the importance of choice and convenience in retaining customer loyalty.