Survey Uncovers Consumer Frustration with Complicated Return Processes Amid COVID-19

The vast majority of shoppers (88 percent) indicated that they will continue to purchase their retail and grocery items online.

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Inmar Intelligence released a survey today, which took a look at the shopping and returns habits of more than 1,000 consumers across the United States. The vast majority of shoppers (88 percent) indicated that they will continue to purchase their retail and grocery items online. However, 40 percent of consumers indicated that they have held off on making an online purchase because they may have to return the item, indicating that consumer frustration with complicated returns processes may be impacting online sales in some areas. Returns remain an important part of retailers interactions with customers. According to data from Inmar Intelligence, 72 percent of shoppers will purchase from a retailer again if the returns process is easy.

The retail customer shopping landscape has changed dramatically since the outbreak of COVID-19. As consumers across the country remained under quarantine measures, the majority of shopping has occurred through e-commerce channels, and it appears that is unlikely to change in the near future. More specifically:

  • 88% of consumers will continue to purchase products online 
  • 53% of consumers said they had purchased multiples of the same product online out of concern it wouldn't be in stock again when they needed to replenish 
  • 40% of consumers have held back on purchasing items online since the outbreak began due to returns frustrations
  • 42% of consumers shared that they now mail their returns due to COVID-19 
  • 89% of consumers indicated that they wanted to receive returns-status updates via email and/or text
  • 56% say they think it's easy to return online purchases, yet 58% prefer to return purchases in a store
  • 66% said they will feel more comfortable returning to stores to shop for those items once a COVID-19 vaccine is available
  • 78% of consumers said sustainability is important to them, with 32% saying sustainability is a priority when they shop
  • Sustainability is important to almost half of consumers surveyed (46%), but is not their first priority when making a purchase decision

"The dramatic increase in online shopping means retailers will have to assess their preparedness to handle higher returns volume. Return rates run much higher in e-commerce, and the additional volume will have a significant impact," said Ken Bays, Vice President of Product Development at Inmar Intelligence. "We already see higher return volumes among our retail and e-commerce clients. We expect that to continue, very likely into the holiday shopping season."

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way that consumers shop for groceries, and retailers need to ensure they are delivering a returns solution that provides shoppers with an easy and interactive returns experience. According to data from Inmar Intelligence, 67 percent of shoppers check the returns page before making an online purchase, indicating that poor returns experiences can impact the purchase decisions for potential customers. Retailers need to transform returns into a customer loyalty factor to delight customers and profitably improve operations. A seamless process is critical to ensure that the perceived inconvenience of having to return the product does not impact the sale.