Box-Free, In-Person Returns are Preferred Return Method for Online Purchases


Mail-in returns are becoming a thing of the past. Online shoppers now rank in-person, box-free returns as the No. 1 preferred method for returning purchases made online, with returns by mail ranked as the fourth, significantly less desirable option. These insights come from the second annual consumer report, “Returns Happen” released by Happy Returns, a PayPal company.

The report details evolving habits of online shoppers, focusing on how attitudes toward online returns can inform merchant solutions.

“Merchants are facing greater challenges with online returns heading into this holiday shopping season, including increased logistics costs due to inflation, higher return rates as more shopping moves online, and customer expectations for online returns that are easy and free,” says David Sobie, VP of Happy Returns. “Despite these challenges, the growing preference for in-person, box-free returns is a huge opportunity to deliver customers the seamless returns experience they’re looking for, while significantly driving down costs by up to 40 percent.”

Nearly 50% of Consumers will Return Holiday Gifts This Year

Before making a purchase, 86% of consumers say they make a point to check a retailer’s return policy. And while some retailers have turned to charging for returns, the desire for free returns is still very strong – 87% of consumers state that free returns are an important factor when purchasing items online.

The survey also uncovered the following insights related to consumers’ return preferences:

  • In-person returns are the preferred return option: 54% of consumers prefer in-person drop off at either the retailer’s store or third-party stores. This ranks high above home pickup, even when home pickup is free.
  • Mail-in returns are a thing of the past: 79% of consumers try to avoid mail-in returns whenever possible, and this number skews higher for those under 30 (83%).
  • ‘Bracketing’ shows no signs of slowing down: Bracketing, the practice of purchasing multiple items with the intention of returning some, continues to be a trend among consumers. More than 1 in 3 consumers plan to bracket their purchases this holiday season, putting even more pressure on retailers.
  • Economic pressures are driving up returns: Nearly 1 in 4 customers have been returning a greater percentage of their online purchases as a result of inflation and other economic pressures that are impacting their financial health. This number skews even higher for those under the age of 45.

To read the full “Returns Happen 2022” report, including advice for merchants, click here.