online shopping

While major e-commerce retailers ready themselves to deal with cranky holiday shoppers amid a fulfillment bottleneck this season, there’s another area of concern that brands need to focus on: returns.

Following a period of unprecedented online growth due to COVID-19, consumers are expecting a “returns experience” that is not only convenient and predictable, but also contactless and transparent, according to a consumer survey by Narvar, which describes itself as an “intelligent customer engagement platform.”

In a poll of more than 1,000 consumers in September, Narvar’s study concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic “has clearly accelerated some shopping behaviors while slowing others.”

“Consumers have been forced to shift toward online shopping to the tune of $107 billion across nearly every category, learned to plan around reduced availability of products and restricted services, and managed safety concerns,” the company said in a statement.

Narvar also said it found “over half (56 percent) of consumers tried a new retailer during the pandemic. While certain trends, like curbside pickups, printerless returns and bracketing, have become more popular with shoppers during this time, others, like demand for proactive communication around deliveries and refunds, have remained constant, indicating the shape of the shopping experience moving forward.” This means brands need to double down on retaining customers, said Amit Sharma, founder and chief executive officer of Narvar.

The ceo explained that brand loyalty has been disrupted “as consumers experiment with other retailers amid uncertain circumstances. Now is the time for retailers to retain both new and repeat customers by providing a convenient experience that preserves predictability in these unsettled times, especially when it comes to delivery promise and returns.”

Digging into the survey results, Narvar discovered that predictability has emerged “as a top priority for consumers, to the point they are willing to pay for guarantees, either on an ad-hoc basis or as part of a subscription.”

The research found that 31 percent of respondents “would pay up to $5 for same-day or scheduled delivery services, while almost a quarter (22 percent) are willing to pay the same amount for scheduled pickup of returns from their homes.”

In regard to convenience, Narvar said shoppers report “being receptive to additional fees of up to $5 for services like return packaging. Both demand for and actual usage of alternative return locations, like pharmacies and lockers, has nearly doubled since last year.” Researchers at the company also said customers who made “their last return that way cited convenience of location, business hours and the ability to consolidate other errands in the same trip as top reasons for their choice.”

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