Survey findings from Phelps United suggest hassle-free returns are now an expected part of the holiday shopping experience—and that stricter policies could leave a bad aftertaste with consumers.
With inflation hitting a 40-year high this year and retailers concerned about rising costs squeezing margins, roughly 60% have said they are making changes to return policies, such as reducing return windows and adding shipping or restocking fees. A new survey from Phelps United suggests that such changes may be short-sighted, as hassle-free returns have become such an intrinsic part of the eCommerce experience that imposing stricter return policies may result in long-term brand damage for merchants.
The 2022 Holiday Gift Returns Survey, conducted for Phelps United Nov. 25 by the third-party survey platform Pollfish, asked U.S. adults about their online shopping and return habits. The poll’s 600 respondents each had a household income of at least $50,000 and said they expected to receive gifts via Amazon and other eCommerce sites this holiday season.
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“It’s become such an intrinsic part of the holiday shopping experience that when retailers decide to tighten their policies, they risk leaving a negative impression—a bad aftertaste that may impact long-term brand perceptions. That’s why we recommend flexible return policies for online merchants.”
Of these respondents, 52% said they expected to return at least one gift received via an online merchant this holiday season. Among this group, 47% said they expected to return at least three gifts, with nearly 1 in 5 (19%) saying they planned to return at least five gifts and 6% planning to return more than 10 gifts.
With returns so ubiquitous, consumers are more likely to scrutinize the return policies of online merchants they do business with. More than three-fourths (76%) of respondents said they review the return policies of eCommerce stores before sending a gift. Most said they would be more likely to shop at an online retailer in the future if it provided free shipping on returns (82%), a flexible window of 30 days or more for returns (58%), and a hassle-free or no-questions-asked return policy (52%).
“Americans expect to return gifts they receive via online retailers today,” said Phelps United President Adam Shaffer. “It’s become such an intrinsic part of the holiday shopping experience that when retailers decide to tighten their policies, they risk leaving a negative impression—a bad aftertaste that may impact long-term brand perceptions. That’s why we recommend flexible return policies for online merchants.”
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