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How Footwear Retailers Are Managing Returns in the Time of COVID-19

As retailers adapt to coronavirus-related store closures, reduced staffing and a shift to online shopping, they’ve also been forced to rethink their return policies.

For nonessential retailers whose brick-and-mortar locations are largely shuttered, shoppers have fewer options for returning or exchanging unwanted purchases. Acknowledging this, many have extended their return windows beyond the usual 30 days. DSW, for instance, is offering returns within 90 days from the date of purchase with a receipt, while Foot Locker will accept returns and exchanges up to 30 days after its stores reopen for purchases made after February 1, a policy that applies to both online and in-store orders.

Macy’s is offering an additional 60 days from the original return date, making most items eligible for return within 150 days. For Backstage and Last Act clearance, the window is now 90 days. On its website, it warns that refunds may take extra time due to limited staffing in its warehouses and says purchases made in stores may not be returned online, so some shoppers will have to wait until local stay-at-home restrictions ease.

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Even e-commerce businesses are giving customers more time to return purchases, in part to ease the burden on their already-overextended warehouse workforces. For shoppers in the U.S. and Canada, Amazon has said that it will allow returns through May 31 on most items ordered between March 1 and April 30.

For omnichannel retailers, offering in-store returns for online orders has become an increasingly popular — and profitable — strategy in recent years. According to a study by marketing technology platform Valassis, 71% of consumers prefer to return or exchange their purchases in stores, and 77% are likely to buy other items when doing so.

For shoppers, this option facilitates a faster refund or exchange and eliminates the concern of the package getting lost in the mail; for retailers, it represents major cost savings on return shipping and offers the possibility of another sale.

Yet even retailers that have remained open have in some cases banned or suspended in-store returns, citing concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

On March 25, Target announced that it would stop accepting in-store returns for three weeks “to be extra cautious” about the health and safety of its store associates and customers. It has since extended this policy through April 26, though it says it will honor expired returns for three weeks following this “holding period.”

According to a recent report by Narvar and Forrester, 42% of retailers surveyed said they had paused their in-store pickup and return in-store services as of March, while 2% said they were considering it. Many (40%) also said they had relaxed their return policies to accommodate the uncertain situation, while 27% said they were considering doing so.

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