As the holiday shopping season starts to kick into gear, consumers will notice a big shift in the stores they love to frequent: Return policies are changing to cope with the way coronavirus has affected the retail industry.
As coronavirus continues to impact daily lives and increases in case counts shift shopping from in-store experiences to online, retailers and consumers alike are having to change the way holiday purchases are being made. Retailers also are changing return policies to offer longer windows of time to exchange or take back items as a result.
Largely, these changes are happening because people are shopping earlier than ever for Holiday 2020. Lines in the stores are already getting long, and people are seeing more sales and discounts than ever before in their emails, on television and on social media. Retailers are offering multiple “Black Fridays” rather than a single-day or weekend events, observers say.
Although these return policies are likely more relaxed than they have been in years, industry experts and security officials agree: Consumers need to think about not only what they are buying this year in term of whether it can be returned, but they also should address things like how long they have to make a return, what kind of return is offered and how long they might have to wait to see a credit on their form of payment.
Dan Izydorek, president of Pontiac-based PC Miracles and author of “The Tech Multiplier” and his team, identify technology gaps, business and cybersecurity risks, then correct, protect and proactively monitor systems. We are approaching the highest levels of Covid in our state again and that means people will want to shop online this holiday. Yet, before you do as a consumer you need to know many things and as a business you need to be protected.
Izydorek said consumers need to know their rights and the company’s returns policy – and that is especially important during this unique holiday-shopping season.
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“You’ve investigated the vendor and found your item of choice at a great price. Time to buy, right? Make sure you check return policies,” Izydorek said. “Since you’re buying the item sight unseen, and it has to be transported, there’s always a chance things don’t work out. Make sure you know how the vendor handles returns, if at all.”
Retailers have enjoyed several years of good tidings when it came to the final months of the year – often considered the best time to go from being “in the red” to being “in the black,” or making a profit. That’s where the whole nickname of “Black Friday” came from back in the day.
For the past two years, holiday retail sales have largely gone up. According to industry data, 2019 retail sales nearly doubled from the year prior with 4.1% growth over the same period in 2018 to $730.2 billion. This year, experts say there will be huge amount of shopping shifting from brick-and-mortar stores to online – there should be an increase from about 10% in 2018 to 24%-27% in 2020, observers believe.
Stores and industry groups are optimistic about holiday shopping overall. For example, the pandemic, unemployment and health concerns are balanced by shoppers’ desires to make the holidays happy for their families. This year, the National Retail Federation predicts consumers will still celebrate the season, and they plan to spend $998 on average on items such as gifts, food, decorations and other holiday-related purchases for themselves and their families.
Retailers also are making it easier for people to shop online during the pandemic. For example, chains such as Amazon, Walmart and Lowe’s are updating their websites, adding better photos of the products they sell, boosting tools such as a 360-degree view of the item as well as more customer photos so people can judge the product completely without seeing it in a storefront.
Stores are offering return windows that are larger than ever before with this holiday season, and the change could last well into 2020, some predict. For example, J. Crew recently announced people who shopped at one of its recent sales between Oct. 16 and Dec. 10 could return those online orders all the way through to Jan. 10. Previously, its return windows were only a few weeks.
Amazon, which has been advertising its gift guides as “Shop gifts now, relax later,” also is advertising its return policy. Previously, this return window had been shrinking and becoming more difficult to make unlike its previously liberal returns.
Now, Amazon is highlighting its “fast, easy returns process” on its website. “Free, easy returns on millions of items at over 18,000 drop-off locations,” the site says. “You may return most new, unopened items sold and fulfilled by Amazon within 30 days of delivery for a full refund. For the 2020 holiday season, most of the items shipped between October 1 and December 31 can be returned until January 31, 2021.”
Also, a company known as “Happy Returns” is expanding to help consumers return their items faster and easier as well. This November, the company announced a partnership with FedEx to offer its in-person return service in 2,000 FedEx Office sites nationwide. There are a variety of these locations available in Michigan.
“This tie up has been in the works for over a year, and it marks an important milestone in the history of Happy Returns,” a company statement said. “FedEx Office is joining our Return Bar network, effectively quadrupling the number of locations that proudly say ‘Happy Returns Accepted Here.’ When the nationwide rollout is complete this month, our network will grow to over 2,600 physical places…”
Moreover, Happy Returns added: “By our calculation, 68% of US households live within a 10-mile radius of a Happy Returns drop-off location. And as FedEx is a delivery business, it is designated as an essential service, meaning FedEx Office locations will remain open even if (God forbid) there are further retail closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.”