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Survey: Online holiday shoppers expect flexible returns

Holiday shoppers expect ease of gift returns.

E-commerce retailers looking to attract holiday customers should pay close attention to their return policies.

More than three in four (76%) of respondents said they review the return policies of e-commerce stores before sending a gift, according to a new survey of online consumers from e-commerce platform Phelps United. Most said they would be more likely to shop at an online retailer in the future if it provided free shipping on returns (82%), a flexible window of 30 days or more for returns (58%), and a hassle-free or no-questions-asked return policy (52%).

The survey also reveals that more than half (52%) of respondents expect to return at least one gift received via an online retailer this holiday season. Among this group, 47% said they expected to return at least three gifts, with nearly one in five (19%) saying they planned to return at least five gifts and 6% planning to return more than 10 gifts.

Close to six in 10 respondents (58%) prefer flexible return policies that allow 30 days or more for a return, the great majority of respondents prefer to return products quickly and in as little time as possible.

Other notable findings include:

  • 69% of respondents said they plan to return gifts in the first week after Christmas, with nearly a third saying they would return gifts the day after Christmas (15%) or even before Christmas (15%).
  • While six in 10 respondents said they expected it would take an hour or less for them to return gifts, 40% said it would take two hours or more, with 11% saying it would take them more than four hours.
  • Nearly two-thirds of respondents (65%) said they would prefer to return gifts to a physical store, compared to those who would rather return gifts through the mail (35%).
  • The great majority of e-commerce gift-givers take advantage of gift receipts, with 85% of respondents saying they include them in the gifts they send, and 79% saying they are typically included in the gifts they receive.
  • The gift category respondents say they are most likely to return is clothing (71%), followed by shoes (53%), gym wear (26%), cosmetics (20%), kitchen appliances (20%), glassware (19%), candles (18%), and sweets/chocolate (16%).

Phelps United used the third-party survey platform Pollfish to conduct an online survey of 600 U.S. consumers, with an annual household income of more than $50,000, who said they expected to receive gifts via Amazon or other eCommerce sites this holiday season. The survey was fielded on November 25, 2022.

[Read more: Retailers can turn returns into a competitive advantage]

“Americans expect to return gifts they receive via online retailers today,” said Phelps United president Adam Shaffer. “It’s become such an intrinsic part of the holiday shopping experience that when retailers decide to tighten their policies, they risk leaving a negative impression—a bad aftertaste that may impact long-term brand perceptions. That’s why we recommend flexible return policies for online merchants.”

This survey was conducted for Phelps United Nov. 25 by the third-party survey platform Pollfish, and asked U.S. adults about their online shopping and return habits. The poll’s 600 respondents each had a household income of at least $50,000 and said they expected to receive gifts via Amazon and other eCommerce sites this holiday season.

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