“Many happy returns!”
That old-fashioned birthday greeting intended to wish the birthday person many more years of celebration has taken on a new meaning this year in the wake of a tsunami of online shopping because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Millions of Americans sheltered at home to do their Christmas shopping this year and online sales went through the roof — spiking 32 percent to $171.6 billion just a few days before Christmas, according to news reports.
It created a massive load for mail and package carriers like FedEx, UPS and the U.S. Postal Service — and some bottlenecks locally like the one at USPS in Oak Creek.
Retailers were doubtlessly happy enough to see their cash registers ringing up those sales from shoppers who didn’t want to risk going to brick-and-mortar stores because of the pandemic, but now they will have to deal with the back side of that largesse — gift returns.
They, too, are expected to be enormous. According to Narvar, Inc., a software technology company that manages online returns for hundreds of brands, shoppers are expected to return twice as many items from Christmas 2020 as they did in the previous year.
That will cost companies more than $1.1 billion, according to Narvar.
While they’re not happy with that — since they have to assess the condition of the returned item and decide whether to resell it, send it to a liquidator or ship it to a landfill — more and more they are willing to put up with those returns as a cost of doing business.
Some are rolling out the red carpet to make it easier for shoppers to send in their returned items.
Consider: Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, announced early in December it would pick up items shipped and sold by Walmart.com from customers’ homes for free in a new partnership with FedEx.
Kohl’s, for the second year, allowed Amazon returns at all of its 1,000 stores for free, with no box or label needed — although the item had to be marked for return on the Amazon order site. This year, that Amazon service was expanded to include 500 Whole Foods stores and it had already allowed drop-offs at UPS sites.
In this curious twist, according to an AP report, some retailers are telling shoppers to not even bother with returning certain rejected items. AP related the story of Dick Pirozollo, of Wellesley, Mass., who wanted to return a too-small $40 jersey from an online cycling store. He was told to keep it, toss it out or give it to a charity or friend. For $10, the store said they would send him the right size. “I was fine with that,” said Pirozollo.
On average, according to the AP report, people return about 25% of the items they buy online, compared to only 8 percent of what they buy in stores.
Whether this year is just a blip caused by the pandemic or a profile of shopping that will grow larger and larger over time — just as voting by mail did this year — remains to be seen.