In the year that catapulted buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) to the spotlight, returns have proven to be a challenge even for the most innovative retailers. Next year that might change.

Curbside returns are likely to see an uptick in popularity in 2021, and with good reason. At the recent 2020 Ecommerce Forum event, Krish Iyer, Head of Industry Relations and Strategic Partnerships at ShipStation shared a prediction, saying “2021 will be the year of curbside returns.” It’s a well-founded prediction, based both on evidence and necessity. 

In 2020, BOPIS sales grew 259% year over year. This leap was thanks to consumers who’ve adapted their shopping habits and retailers who’ve modified their offerings.

While the changes in the ecommerce industry this year have largely been propelled by a desire to stay out of physical stores, their effects are unlikely to fade. In fact, in a recent ShipperHQ study, 74% of online shoppers under 40 say they’ll continue to use alternate shipping methods such as curbside or in-store pickup, even after social distancing guidelines are erased. 

Shopping features like BOPIS are generally centered around convenience. So it’s safe to assume that customers will expect retailers to offer curbside return services sooner rather than later.

Benefits of Curbside Returns

Customer-Centricity

The most obvious benefit is to your customer. Those who take advantage of offerings like curbside pickup are likely to expect similarly convenient return options. Curbside returns offer many of the same benefits as BOPIS.

In fact, 23% of shoppers who’ve used BOPIS say they use it specifically because they enjoy the option to instantly return products if necessary. Meanwhile, 77% say they like being able to see and handle products before taking them home. Offering convenient pickup and return solutions can also significantly improve customer loyalty.

75% of BOPIS buyers say they’re likely to make another purchase using this system. 

Reduced Reverse Shipping Costs

Even before COVID changed the ecommerce world, retailers still paid an average of $10 per return. In 2019, consumers returned more than $100 billion worth of goods between Thanksgiving and January. Shoppers were three times more likely to return online purchases. These rates of return are likely to skyrocket this holiday season, given the overall growth of ecommerce as a whole. With curbside returns, you can provide a simple, no-label-, no-shipping-required option that appeals to the convenience-minded buyer. Plus, retailers can save money by sending returns back to warehouses in bulk, especially after they’re returned to a central hub like a store.

Increased store traffic

Whether returns occur as true “curbside” transactions or require a quick in-store visit, both versions bring established customers to your brick-and-mortar. This provides massive upsell potential. BOPIS and curbside returns alike can also drive higher AOV, with 49% of BOPIS customers saying they’ve purchased another item while picking up an order. 

Challenges of Curbside Returns 

Logistical concerns

The most obvious concern for retailers is the logistical angle of handling returns to a small, potentially under-equipped store location. Retail employees aren’t always trained in online returns processing, which creates a need for more training. Additionally, stores need the physical space to hold returns should they come in. Not to mention, there may be challenges with specific product stock. Can every item be returned to every store? Are there restrictions to some storefronts that don’t apply to others? As a grocery retailer, can a store that can’t sell alcohol in the first place be eligible to accept a return still?

While these concerns are valid and complex, they can be solved relatively easily with clearly communicated parameters around the program. Increased employee training is a worthy investment, as well, and one that can make every team member better-equipped and more valuable. Rely on shipping management platforms like ShipperHQ alongside intelligent post-purchase shipping software like ShipStation to help coordinate specifics of where items can be returned and label printing. A little setup on the front end will take your business a long way.

Returns abuse

As any ecommerce seller will tell you, returns are a double-edged sword. While undeniably necessary for customer satisfaction, the abuse of returns is virtually inevitable as well. 

In a Forter study, 54% of retailers said they lost more than $5 million each year thanks to returns abuse. Fraudsters and authentic customers alike can cause this. The good news is that retailers can stop fraudsters in their tracks using intelligent fraud detection software and proactive policies, such as Bolt

The tougher end of the spectrum involves your actual customers, some who might take advantage of offerings like lifetime warranties, extended return periods, no-questions-asked policies or other customer-friendly return options. There’s no way to completely eliminate customers from abusing your returns system, but there are simple ways to mitigate the issues.

First, be sure to keep customer account records up to date. Then consider requiring contact details and purchase information for returns, especially for high-dollar goods. While this may make the returns process slightly longer, honest customers aren’t likely to mind the bit of extra work required to get a refund or exchange.

It’s a tricky balance to strike. Retailers must juggle offering a return policy customers will love, and one that won’t hurt your bottom line. But with a little bit of elbow grease and planning, you can prevent abuse before it becomes a larger issue. 

Stores Offering Curbside Returns Now 

Already, several major retailers are offering curbside returns. To customers, a store offering curbside returns may seem like a no-brainer. For retailers, though, the logistics and planning of it is a significant undertaking. Some major retailers, however, have mastered it, offering a clean and straightforward process.

Best Buy

DSW

Dick’s Sporting Goods:

It’s worth keeping in mind that these are major retailers with significant resources. However, smaller retailers can leverage their size to remain flexible, and adopt policies like curbside returns with more ease than their larger counterparts.

The First Step

Before you can focus on streamlining curbside returns, you’ll need to optimize the first half of the transaction: fulfillment.

Integrate with a Shipping Rate Management platform like ShipperHQ to instantly offer curbside or in-store pickup, alternate location pickup, or just transparent delivery dates and times. It’s the first step in a process that will make both purchases – and returns – even more customer-friendly.