February 29, 2024

In-store returns are the cheapest.

In-store returns are the cheapest.
Photo: Joshua Roberts (Reuters)

This holiday season yields are higher and so are the costs of making them. More than four in five retailers now charge customers a fee to return or return an item they don’t want to keep, according to Happy Returns, a logistics firm that works with online merchants to handle product returns. (The company was recently sold to UPS through Paypal.)

The practice of charging for returns isn’t entirely new: Amazon has been since April to charge customers a $1 fee if they return items to a UPS store when there is a Whole Foods, Amazon Fresh grocery store or Kohl’s—An Amazon partner since 2019-closer to their delivery address. Macy’s, Abercrombie, J. Crew, H&M and other companies have all added shipping fees to mail submissions in the past year, as CNN took note.

Fast fashion chain Zara allows for free personal returns at its stores, but subtract $3.95 from the refund value for returns by post. American Eagle complaint a fee of $5 for the same, while J. Crew subtract $7.50 and JC Penny charges $8. TJMaxx burns one of the biggest holes in the return receipt, charge $11.99 for shipping and handling returns that are not done in person.

Shop returns, by the numbers

94%: Share shoppers willing to travel up to two miles for free, personal returns

59%: Share of merchants who say shoppers chose the cheapest return option

15%: Share of traders who posted return rates of more than 20% in 2022

47%: Share of traders who posted return rates of more than 20% in 2023

(All statistics are from a recent report by Happy Returns.)

Define it: “Bracketing”

“Bracketing” is when online shoppers buy multiple items with the intention of returning at least some of them, perhaps to try on a garment in multiple sizes or colors. The growing practice is most popular among Gen Z, with 86% of them opting for “bracketing” when shopping. The older the buyer, the less likely they are to shop.

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