Can stores afford tighter returns on e-commerce purchases?

An interesting discussion at RetailWire about the dilemma facing stores with liberal return policies. In particular, most stores today encourage e-commerce returns to their brick-and-mortar locations without having an exit strategy for those products carried only online. Here’s my point of view:

Retailers trying to make their omnichannel initiatives more consumer friendly are caught in a bind. Any attempt to tighten up return policies (especially returning online purchases to physical locations) is likely to backfire, because most other competing retailers are accommodating these returns. On the other hand, as the article points out, returning web-only goods causes all sorts of reverse logistics problems — not to mention the pressure it puts on limited space in stores’ stockrooms.

At a point where stores are very cautiously hiring for 4th quarter, the potential is high that customer returns, BOPIS and other omnichannel tactics will backfire on adequate levels of customer service — checkout lines, fixture replenishment, and so forth. It’s not wonder that stores like Macy’s and Kohl’s (with growing omnichannel business) are trying to figure out how their new outlet stores can relieve some of the reverse-logistics pressure.


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