Which Retailers Were Winners in Handling Holiday Returns?

Kurt Salmon's final installation of holiday shipping research reveals new data on how retailers performed in processing returns this season.

The study analyzed return policies and charges, average time to credit an account for a return, and customer experiences to identify the best-performing retailers.  The data are based on nearly 150 actual orders placed during the 2015 peak holiday shipping season, in which approximately 300 of the total 500 units ordered were returned.

It took an average of 13.3 days for retailers to credit returns to accounts, an improvement over last year's 16.8 days, but still far from customers' expectation of about 7 days.
  • Fewer than 20 percent of retailers credited their return in 7 days or less. Specifically:
  • 18 percent of returns were credited in week one
  • 43 percent of returns were credited in week two
  • 27 percent of returns were credited in week three
  • 12 percent of returns were credited in week four and beyond
  • 64 percent of retailers eased returns by offering a return label.
  • 47 percent of retailers provided for free returns when shipping to the retailer.
  • Only 30 percent provided both a return label and free return shipping, though 92 percent of retailers with physical stores allowed buyers to return online purchases to the store, which is typically free.
  • For those that charged for returns, the average charge was $11.50.
Top performers
The best-performing retailers on return credits included American Eagle, Amazon, Cole Haan, Lowe's, Coach, Best Buy, Gap and Old Navy. These top-performing retailers provided customers with a fast-track path to get the product back to the retailer and credit the customer in a timely manner.

You get what you pay for
Average return time for free returns:  14.7 days
Average return time for <$10 returns (excludes free):  12.4 days
Average return time for >$10 returns (excludes free):  10.8 days

Omnichannel fulfillment adds complexity to returns
About 10 percent of retailers charged a 'per box' charge for returns. For retailers that shipped in multiple packages (58 percent), this charge can lead to higher returns costs for customers.

Many retailers' return policies were difficult to interpret, e.g. allowing in-store returns only for in-store products, but failing to identify whether a purchase was available online only.
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