The holiday retail season has always been a big time for returns and exchanges, but the coronavirus pandemic could be changing that.
According to a new study from Oracle Retail, 38% of consumers plan to make at least one return this year — a significant drop from last year’s 77%. The COVID-19 outbreak has led a number of retailers to adjust their return policies, but shoppers are still hoping to avoid the hassle of venturing to the post office or heading back to stores to return unwanted merchandise.
With limited travel and a desire to steer clear of returns and exchanges, consumers are looking to spend their money on more practical gifts: The retail solutions firm said it was no surprise then to see gift cards among the items that topped the list of holiday gifts, with 27% of shoppers saying that they planned to spend more on them this year. Gift cards ranked third to electronics at 29% and apparel or necessities at 39%. Other gifts that consumers plan to spend more on during the holidays are sporting goods or hobby-related products (19%) and luxury items like handbags or jewelry (15%).
“With more consumers avoiding returns, redeeming gift cards will be the next big opportunity for retailers to engage customers and extend sales post-holiday,” explained Oracle Retail SVP and general manager Mike Webster.
That’s not to say shoppers are eschewing stores altogether: The survey found that nearly two-fifths of respondents plan to do most of their shopping in stores, with 47% planning to split purchases between digital and physical locations. Plus, another 16% said they would choose to retrieve orders curbside.
“The holidays promise to test a retailer’s ability to serve customers how and where they want to shop,” Webster said. “With customers shopping both online and in-store, and taking advantage of new retrieval options such as curbside pick-up and buy online, pick up in store, retailers are going to have to be firing on all cylinders to meet customer expectations in an already difficult environment.”
Oracle found that a lack of inventory would be the fastest way for retailers to end up on this year’s naughty list: Nearly half (or 47%) of respondents said that out-of-stock merchandise topped their list for a bad shopping experience, while 63% said they weren’t willing to wait for an item to be back in stock before shopping from another brand.
“In the pandemic, many retailers’ in-store stock was depleted or completely sold out,” said Webster. “During the holidays, it will be critical for retailers to fill the shelves and use their physical locations both to serve shoppers and as fulfillment centers to handle online orders and get shipments out to customers quickly.”
According to Oracle Retail, shoppers this year are considering three criteria when making a purchase: great prices; special offers or discounts such as buy one, get one free; and the immediate availability of a product as well as fast shipping times. In addition, 73% of consumers said that real-time updates on their purchases’ location throughout the delivery process is important to holiday shopping. The feedback comes as many retailers — including e-tail behemoth Amazon — have extended shipping times as they’ve experienced higher-than-average order volumes.
“Every parent nervously waiting for their child’s holiday gift to arrive will attest that transparency from retailers is an absolute must,” noted Webster. “Brands have to have the systems in place to communicate with customers every step of the way, from ordering through to delivery.”