The surge in pandemic-fueled online shopping has created a new urgency to solve a decades-old problem: returns.Companies such as Walmart Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. are telling customers to keep unwanted items. Some retailers are introducing virtual dressing rooms and made-to-measure clothing so that shoppers keep more of what they buy. Others are scoring shoppers based on their return rates, much the way credit-ratings firms tally consumers’ creditworthiness.
Behind the push is a painful economic reality of e-commerce. The share of online purchases that are returned averages 30% or higher, depending on the category, three times the rate in physical stores, according to industry executives.“There was a huge shift to online shopping, and the numbers won’t go back to where they were before the pandemic,” said Oliver Lange, who runs H&Mbeyond, the brand’s innovation lab.Consumers got comfortable buying everything from groceries to makeup online, as brick-and-mortar stores temporarily shut and anxiety mounted about spending time indoors. In a recent survey by technology company Pitney Bowes , 42% of consumers said they plan to shop even more online once the pandemic ends than they do now.