Study: Shoppers Opt For Convenience and Predictability During Pandemic 1

New research from Narvar, an intelligent customer engagement platform, illustrates how COVID-19 has affected consumer behavior and expectations, particularly around deliveries, returns, and omnichannel shopping, in ways that will be long-lasting and influence loyalty. The report, “State of Returns: New Expectations,” analyzes the sentiments of online shoppers in the U.S. market.

COVID-19 has clearly accelerated some shopping behaviors while slowing others. Consumers have been forced to shift towards online shopping to the tune of $107 billion across nearly every category, learned to plan around reduced availability of products and restricted services, and managed safety concerns. The study found that over half (56%) of consumers tried a new retailer during the pandemic. While certain trends, like curbside pickups, printerless returns, and bracketing, have become more popular with shoppers during this time, others, like demand for proactive communication around deliveries and refunds, have remained constant, indicating the shape of the shopping experience moving forward.

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Predictability has emerged as a top priority for consumers, to the point they are willing to pay for guarantees, either on an ad hoc basis or as part of a subscription. Around one-third of shoppers (31%) would pay up to $5 for same-day or scheduled delivery services, while almost a quarter (22%) are willing to pay the same amount for scheduled pickup of returns from their homes.

Convenience is also essential, and shoppers report being receptive to additional fees of up to $5 for services like return packaging. Both demand for and actual usage of alternative return locations, like pharmacies and lockers, has nearly doubled since last year. Customers who made their last return that way cited convenience of location, business hours, and the ability to consolidate other errands in the same trip as top reasons for their choice.

“Brand loyalty has been disrupted as consumers experiment with other retailers amid uncertain circumstances,” said Amit Sharma, founder, and CEO of Narvar. “Now is the time for retailers to retain both new and repeat customers by providing a convenient experience that preserves predictability in these unsettled times, especially when it comes to delivery promise and returns.”

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Additional findings from the study include:

The returns experience is critical to retention — and communication is a key element.

  • Communicating near real-time status updates for deliveries and returns have become table stakes, especially as longer delivery times are predicted to continue into the holiday season and beyond.
  • Shoppers who rated their last return as “very easy” didn’t have to check on their return and refund: 43% were informed when their refund was processed, and 32% received status updates during the return journey.
  • First-time customers can be turned into repeat customers with a great returns experience; 76% of those who rated their returns experience with a new retailer highly said they would shop with them again on that basis.

When it comes to return labels, no printer, no problem.

  • Stay-at-home mandates have caused shoppers to rely more heavily on printerless return options — using a mobile QR code instead of printing a return label when dropping off a package — which is likely to persist post-pandemic.
  • Desire for printerless returns has nearly doubled since last year (28% this year vs. 15% in 2019).
  • Over a quarter (27%) of shoppers used a mobile QR code instead of printing a returns label for their last return.
  • Across Narvar’s platform, printerless return rates increased 60% over the past 6 months.

Shoppers rely on “bracketing” due to weight fluctuations, lack of access to stores, and experimentation with new retailers.

  • This practice of buying multiple sizes, colors, or styles of items with the intention of returning what doesn’t work has transformed bedrooms into fitting rooms over the past few years. Narvar has tracked and reported on this behavior since mid-2017.
  • Bracketing surged this year, with more than 6 in 10 consumers admitting that they do this at least sometimes — a 50% increase in just 3 years, and 29% since last year.
  • Of those who say they are bracketing more now than usual, nearly half (41%) are doing so because they’ve gained or lost weight and are no longer certain of their sizes, about a third (31%) because they were not able to try things on in the store as they normally would, and nearly a quarter (21%) because they tried new retailers for the first time.

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