Survey: Returning online purchases to stores instead of shipping them is on the rise

Nearly half of retailers report that buy online, return in store (BORIS) has increased over the last 12 months.
article cover

Ian McKinnon

· 3 min read

Never mind the former UK prime minister, the tennis player, or Frankenstein. For retailers nowadays, there’s only one BORIS—buy online, return in store—the one that saves them the expense of shipping for returns.

And BORIS is on the rise, with 47.6% of retailers reporting an increase in the past 12 months, according to new data from Pollfish and goTRG, a return logistics company whose clients include Walmart.

The data, which was gathered in March, was from a survey of 500 retail insiders at 21 companies, including Walmart, Amazon, The Home Depot, Costco, and Target.

Point of no return: Retailers are trying to get a handle on the volume and expense of returns. Total retail returns accounted for more than $761 billion in merchandise for US retailers in 2021, according to the National Retail Federation.

  • “For every $1 billion in sales, the average retailer incurs $166 million in merchandise returns,” according to the NRF.

And retailers seem to be taking the returns challenge more seriously than ever, with 57.2% in the goTRG poll responding that returns are a bigger priority than they were 12 months ago.

To fee or not to fee: Some retailers—including H&M, Zara, Abercrombie & Fitch, and J.Crew—have started charging fees for online returns, and the survey suggests that’s becoming a trend, too.

  • 66.4% of retailers reported they charge for returns, including those that require shipping for online orders.
  • Among those that charge for shipping, 44.5% reported implementing the fee within the last 12 months.

“So obviously, there’s a mindset change for these retailers,” said Sender Shamiss, president and CEO of goTRG. “They’re sitting there in a boardroom saying, ‘How can we stop people from sending these items back using traditional parcel freight?’”

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Our free retail newsletter delivers insights to keep retail leaders and decision-makers up to date.

What retail executives also are asking, Shamiss said, is “‘How can we send them to a physical location to handle this product?”

To that end, when it comes to deploying strategies to encourage BORIS, 43.8% of respondents said they’re offering in-store incentives, 31.8% said they were charging fees for return shipping, and only 24.4% said they’re not incentivizing BORIS.

What’s in store: As for how to incentivize in-store returns, Shamiss said retailers should consider more of a carrot than a stick approach.

“Before this year, it was just, ‘Shut up and pay this fee to return anything online, or come to our store and return it for free,’” Shamiss said. “So that’s a very stick approach.”
The carrot approach says that if you return in-store, not only will you be spared the fee, “but if you come into the store, we give you a 10% discount on anything you buy or…a $5 gift card,” he said.

And incentivizing BORIS is what Shamiss sees as the winning strategy.

“The retailers should be getting very smart and understand that they don’t want to piss off their clients,” Shamiss said. “They’re not just saying, ‘Hey, we’re changing our policies collectively as an industry and forcing you to come into a store when you don’t want to…We’re not really forcing you to go to the store—we’re incenting [you to] come to the store,’ which is a very different approach.”

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Our free retail newsletter delivers insights to keep retail leaders and decision-makers up to date.