Sunday, January 27, 2013

Problems for Brick & Mortar Merchants Created by Returns of Online Purchases


Problems for Brick & Mortar Merchants Created by Returns of Online Purchases

Yesterday afternoon I stopped by my local Chico’s store to return some merchandise that had been sent to me in error. Customer service had told me just to take the items back to my local store.  My shipping list was in the package. But the items in the bag belonged to some other unknown individual who, no doubt, had received my “So Slimming Getaway Pants”.

When I walked into the store with the bag of returns. I could tell by the look on the store manager’s face that she feared the returns would compound the problems of slow traffic in keeping the store from reaching its daily sales goals.  It was a snowy day and there were no customers out and about shopping.  I learned that returns of online purchases to a retail store adversely affected the store’s numbers.

Since these were returns that required no refund – just a return to stock at the warehouse – there was no adverse impact on the daily receipts. But in chatting with the sales associates and manager, I learned how irresponsible shopping on the part of consumers that buy without trying things on or because they didn’t want to hurt a sales associates feelings or because they had one too many glasses of Cabernet before shopping online could result in such negative sales receipts that we risk losing the option of shopping at a local brick & mortar store.

We all make some mistakes when ordering online. And it isn’t the occasional return that creates the problems. But I heard stories of women buying $1000 at a store in Alexandria, Virginia and then driving a few miles to the mall at Pentagon City to return the merchandise she’d just bought. The Alexandria store got credit for the sale. The Pentagon City store was dinged for the return. I was also told that women shop online, spend several hundred dollars, and then return the entire shipment at the local store without even taking the items out of the packages.  Be it buyers remorse; lonely people trying to filled a void through retail therapy; or realizing that online deal really wasn’t what it appeared to be, we should be mindful that returns do cause more than a little angst to some in the retail industry.

Perhaps we should try to be more thoughtful before making a purchase. I’ve had friends that refuse to try anything on in the store because they know they can always return. And I’m not arguing against all returns. I’ve made more than my share of returns from thinking I might love something for $24.99 that I didn’t love at $129.99; or finding that something didn’t fit, or the feel of the fabric or color or cut in person was not as it appeared by be online. But really, there is no excuse for buying items to keep from hurting a sales person’s feelings or buying just for something to do knowing you plan to return it all. Someone who does this needs more help than retail therapy.

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