Are retailers ready to deal with in-store returns?
Many fashion retailers opened their doors for the first time in 13 weeks on Monday, and as expected customers flocked to the shops across the UK. Footfall was up nearly 40% from last week as yesterday’s good weather conditions encouraged shoppers outside, however the overall number of people on the high-street is still considerably down from the same time last year. Many consumers were queuing up to return items.
The world’s biggest Primark in Birmingham had to open its doors earlier than planned due to high demand from customers unable to shop online for the brand, Manchester’s TK Maxx and Footlocker had hour long queues, and some of London’s flagship stores had queues around the block. Despite good signals of consumer confidence on Monday, it’s important to note a number of markets including Germany and China, experienced similar spikes in footfall immediately after lockdown before returning to 40-60% YoY drops in numbers.
However, for now, here are how retailers should keep their store as safe as possible when handling returns.
Managing in-store returns
Consumers have been unable to return unwanted items for over three months as many retailers previously did not have the means to accept returns online that were bought in store. With small businesses and furloughs commonplace, much of the nation will be hard up for cash and will likely take advantage of the increased returns policies offered by stores.
The first recommendation is to quarantine fashion items for up to 48 hours, or where possible, clean the items immediately before they are restocked on the shelves (Government Guidelines). In some cases, especially footwear where many pairs of shoes are tried on before purchasing, stock may be limited. So it is important to have the capabilities to clean popular items immediately to avoid the surge of customers (that have already queued for up to an hour to get in) being met with out-of-stock signs all over the store.
It would also be good practice to move customer service desks to corners of the store, or for them to have direct access to a seperate quarantined stock areas, to mitigate the risk of contaminated returns being walked down the aisles. There should also be space for customers to queue up to make returns whilst still maintaining social distancing measures, which remains currently at 2m apart.
Ideally, PPE and training would be given to staff handling returns to protect their safety. Items in most cases will need to be inspected to ensure that they are still in good condition and with tags (depending on your stores policy); however, if there is a way of determining VIP customers, it may be safer and more appropriate to issue a refund in good faith rather than fully inspecting the item. This practice is obviously far more feasible online, using returns solutions such as ZigZag, but it could translate to smaller businesses with known regular customers. There has never been a better time to implement a returns portal, so that consumers can return from home, utilising collection services to help reduce the queues in store.
Finally, one of the most obvious measures outlined by the Government is for all refunds to be processed through contactless payment. This practice is already in place across logistics networks and food collection and deliveries.