Customers greatly value a simple return process, new study shows

Inmar Intelligence reporting shows a positive return experience when shopping for branded or private label goods online is a high priority for customers.
Zachary Russell
Associate Editor
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A new study from Inmar Intelligence gave insight into a key factor for online shoppers. When buying online, be it branded or private label items, a good experience returning items is a high priority for consumers.

Inmar’s recent survey of 1,000 U.S. adults aimed to find consumer’s online and in-store return preferences, examining why consumers make returns, the parts of the process they value most, and what determines if they’ll shop with that merchant again after completing a return process.

“While online shopping is convenient, the return process can be daunting, leading consumers to shop more in-store to try on, purchase and return,” said Inmar. “But now, with the world at our fingertips, online shopping allows consumers to purchase goods from afar. Yet the process of shipping returns continues to become more complex as purchase options increase.”

The study found that 32% of respondents said they’ve made four to six online purchases in the last three months, and 31% said they’ve made 10 or more. With the online shopping rising since spring of 2020, nearly 55% of respondents made online purchases knowing they were likely to return at least some of the items purchased.

The survey found that 80% of shoppers read the online merchant’s return policy before making a purchase versus 67% who ask about the in-store return policy before they buy. Despite offering free shipping for product returns, 44% of respondents still prefer to return in-store when they can. When returning in-store, respondents said they most value instant credit, in-store coupons and convenient drop-off locations.

Inmar’s survey also found that fees related to returns aren’t a deal breaker for online shoppers. When asked if returning in-store is a perk and leads shoppers to purchase from a merchant, 84% said yes. When asked if they’d still shop with a merchant if they had to pay for shipping a return, 57% said yes. 

“The bottom line is that an optimized post-purchase experience has the power to drive customer loyalty, increase sales and earn customer trust,” said Ken Bays, VP of product development at Inmar Intelligence. “However, the findings suggest that disconnects exist in the management of the post-purchase experience. Omnichannel retailers would benefit greatly by offering free in-store returns for online purchases. These retailers may even add fees for mail-back returns as a way to further incentivize shoppers to return in-store. Pure-play e-commerce retailers would benefit by offering greater convenience through multiple pick-up and drop-off locations.”