It feels like we have been practicing social distancing for months, yet it will likely continue into the foreseeable future. One of the few things a shopper can do under the circumstances is take advantage of the sales online. In Digital Commerce 360’s online survey of 1,046 shoppers in conjunction with Bizrate Insights, only 13% of respondents indicated that they had purchased apparel/accessories. My guess is that number must be rising as work-from-home-related promotions abound with retailers finding a myriad of ways to say cozy, comfy and relaxed.
When it comes to the number of online orders placed during the coronavirus, 69% of online shoppers indicated their online behavior had not changed. I have now moved into the camp of the 20% who have placed a few more orders online.
These orders entail a combination of home delivery, in-store and curbside pickup. What we learned from each suggest a variety of circumstances in play.
Generally speaking, orders are processed as one would expect. Deliveries are somewhat lengthier than online shoppers are accustomed to. We’re now back to 5-7 days versus the 1-3 days that had become the standard from many retailers in the industry. In some cases like Nordstrom, it was 12 days. Of course, it’s not that problematic in most instances with no sense of urgency in these times.
Here’s how my orders played out. Barnes & Noble added its name to the list of retailers that offered curbside service. The first day I went by the store around 5 p.m. and called upon arrival. I didn’t receive an answer and headed home. The next day, I called earlier in the day, and they let me know their store hours. An associate came out immediately with my reading glasses order and was careful to keep his distance when handing me the item from the passenger window. When I got home and tested them, they were the wrong strength, so I was now in return mode.
I called the store, and an associate informed me that my only option was to place another order and hold onto the glasses or return the pair I had. Considering the glasses cost $50, I was slightly aggravated, but I wanted to finish my tasks. I went online, but what I needed wasn’t available. So, I went the old-fashioned route, called back and hoped for a little help. Barnes & Noble went the extra mile and found they were in stock, pulled the product and agreed to exchange them curbside. As it turns out, I received the wrong product again, one that was $10 less, but I decided to go with it. My hope was that the store would survive the pandemic, and I could shop in my neighborhood when stores reopen.
This past weekend, The Home Depot was business as usual with about 50 cars in the parking lot and a handful of folks in the store. It displayed a makeshift sign saying that they will match any competitor’s price. Perhaps similar signage was present during natural disasters they supported, but it was new for me. The employees at the buy online pick up in store (BOPIS) counter were bantering back and forth about being essential workers, but they quickly picked my order.
It’s the returns that are now problematic. Omnichannel conveniences have gone by the wayside. Despite the fact that 81% of online shoppers return 5% or less of their online purchases, I had two returns to complete.
While frustration with returning online items is typically price-driven, the coronavirus has shifted course and centers on the inability to return online purchases in-store. 19% of those surveyed shared that frustration. Though time is plentiful during this shelter-in-place reality, the hassle of packing up purchases and heading to the post office lacks the joy of going back to the store and scouting a new purchase. Digital Commerce 360’s 2020 Click Ship Return survey with Bizrate Insights of 1,052 online shoppers found that 43% of online shoppers expect to receive a credit in one day or less on return orders, so the customer’s wait time is likely to be extended under the new normal.
Prior to the pandemic, when asked how long shoppers should have to return an item that was ordered online, just under half (47%) suggested 30 days. From the five retailers who comprised my online orders during the week of March 23, all accommodated that preference and just one extended their existing window.
Urban Outfitters’ typical 30-day return policy was extended to 60 days. So, I now have to wait for an unknown time for my credit to post. 25% of respondents also expressed this was a frustration, preferring to not wait more than a week to receive a credit for a returned order. Retailers also lose out as additional purchases—often of new products at a higher margin—could no longer be a reality.
The real question is, how will these return dynamics affect future purchases? No one knows for sure, but I plan to buy more to feed my shopping habits for next week.