During the retail industry’s biggest shopping season, much of the buzz is around promotional rates and inventory status. But customer service policies play a role in where and how consumers choose to shop during the holidays, too.
Here, online shoppers and merchants weigh in on price matching, price adjusting and extended return windows, and we look at how commonplace the practices are among top retailers at this time of year.
By the numbers
How widespread are price matching, price adjusting and extended holiday returns policies?
Retailers that offer price matching allow a consumer to request that the price of an item on their ecommerce site be lowered to match or even beat the price listed by another merchant. This gives retailers the opportunity to retain a sale from a cost-conscious shopper rather than lose out to a competitor.
Among the upper echelon of the 2022 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000 — or the top 100 largest online retailers in North America — four in 10, or 40.0%, have a widespread price-match policy in place. An additional 2.0% of merchants extend a price-matching courtesy to customers who are enrolled in their paid memberships.
Price adjusting, on the other hand, occurs when a consumer notices the price of an item they’ve already purchased from a retail site has since been marked down online and asks the merchant to honor the less expensive price. Retailers that have a policy of granting this type of request typically have a certain timeframe for when prices can be adjusted — perhaps a week or a month. And then they either refund shoppers by sending the difference back to the original form of payment or issuing merchandise credit for the site.
A greater share of top 100 retailers — 57.0% — will adjust prices on previous orders if products later go on sale.
Additionally, retailers offering extended returns postpone the number of days they usually give consumers to send back unwanted products, lengthening the window during a peak season. This move helps accommodate holiday gifting, as shoppers might buy something in November (or even October, for that matter) but not give it to a recipient until Christmas, for example. Gift recipients might be out of luck if they were required to return something within the standard 30- or 60-day period, but the added leeway helps calm any fears buyers might have for seasonal shopping.
This year, 40.0% of top 100 retailers stretched out their holiday returns timeline beyond the typical deadline, giving shoppers more wiggle room. And additional 3.0% will accept returns without any deadline.
While these policies largely apply to products purchased in a retailer’s stores, too, Digital Commerce 360 focuses on customer service protocol regarding ecommerce orders.
How important are price matching, price adjusting and extended holiday returns to consumers?
“Online shoppers appreciate that retailers will go the extra mile. These are all stress reducers in what is always a challenging time of year,” says Lauren Freedman, senior consumer insights analyst at Digital Commerce 360. “Oftentimes, just knowing they are in place is more important than actually taking advantage of them. They are just the confidence shoppers need when selecting retailers where they will make their purchases.”
Survey data supports Freedman’s characterization.
Ahead of the holiday season, 16% of consumers said they would seek out retailers that offer price matching more than in the prior year. That’s according to a Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 1,088 online shoppers in September. But during Cyber 5, or the five-day stretch from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, less than half of that share — just 7% — of consumers actually had a retailer match the lower price of a competitor. That was the portion reported in a Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 1,095 online shoppers in November.
Additionally, 6% of consumers said they’re returning a product because they found a cheaper price on an item elsewhere during Cyber 5. While the share is modest, it’s still worth noting as retailers could potentially combat that loss in revenue with a flexible and well-marketed price-match policy.
Similarly, extended returns also seem to be a customer service comfort rather than a major sales driver. Only 2% of online shoppers in the November survey chose a long return window as a top-three reason for selecting a specific retailer while shopping during Cyber 5. And yet 41% of retailers extended return deadlines for the holidays, according to a Digital Commerce 360 survey of 70 online merchants in Q3.
The Amazon angle
How long do shoppers have to return items from Amazon during the holidays?
For several years now, Amazon.com Inc. has offered an extended return window for the holiday season. In 2021, most items purchased from Oct. 1-Dec. 31 were eligible for returns through Jan. 31, 2022. This year, the end-of-January return deadline remained the same. But the retail giant, No. 1 in the Top 1000, tightened the period for qualifying orders by more than two weeks to Oct. 11-Dec. 25.
Amazon usually requires items to be returned within 30 days. The merchant lengthened the window by an additional 83 days to 113 days total. That beats the median 62-day holiday extension for top 100 retailers offering longer return timelines.