Retailers brace for surge of returns on online shopping

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“This is the perfect time to work in the returns business. Every day there is a record, ”said David Sobie, CEO and co-founder of Happy Returns, noting that he processed 50% more returns in December than in November.

Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, announced earlier this week that it will collect items shipped and sold by Walmart.com from customers’ homes for free through a new partnership with FedEx. The service will continue beyond the holiday shopping season.

A growing number of retailers are asking buyers not to even bother to return certain refused items.

When Dick Pirozzolo wanted to return an undersized jersey he bought for $ 40 from a website called Online Cycling Gear, he was pleasantly surprised with the response. The site told him to keep it, throw it away, or give it to a friend or charity – and he’ll send him the right size for an extra $ 10.

“It was fine with me,” said the 77-year-old cycling enthusiast from Wellesley, Massachusetts. “I did a good thing for a friend and got a new shirt.” The experience, he says, has given him confidence to buy more online this holiday season.

David Bassuk, co-head of AlixPartners’ global retail practice, says stores increasingly make shoppers feel less guilty about returning items.

“If they’re not sure about their size, they order both sizes,” he says. “If they don’t know which color, they order both colors. And if they don’t know which item, they order them all. But it is costly for retailers, and retailers are not in a good position to handle all the costs.

On average, people return 25% of the items they buy online, compared to just 8% of what they buy in-store, according to Forrester Research online analyst Sucharita Mulpuru. For clothes, it’s even higher, around 30%.

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