<< back to Retail

2022: The Future of Retail and Returns


Al Gerrie, CEO at retail returns specialists, ZigZag reveals his thoughts on the future of retail and returns as we head into the new year…

Gift cards will become the norm for returns

“Customer expectations for speedy returns is growing and as such, retailers are looking for more innovative and creative ways to make returns more quickly. Lately, we’ve seen many retailers offering instant refunds to their VIP customers. This works when retailers have identified certain regular shoppers that make frequent returns but often due to purchasing a number of sizes and colours.

“Whilst the usual unpacking and checks still need to be made, these shoppers are trusted and therefore instant returns, often available up to a certain value can speed things up,encourage customer loyalty and reduce call centre contact. I expect to see more of this in 2022, as well as the increase in popularity of return to gift card. Many retailers are testing incentives to help retain shoppers who choose this option too. For example, if you return a £50 item you would receive £55 credit on a gift card. It benefits the retailer by ensuring repeat purchase, so the sale is not lost and the consumer can enjoy a boost in spending. It’s a win-win for both shoppers and retailers.”

Collection options opening up

“As we head into 2022, it’s clear that remote working is here to stay for many people — meaning that shoppers are spending more and more time at home. So where they previously might have dropped off their return on their way to work or on their lunch break, this might not be their preferred option. Retailers will need to provide more choice for the remote worker. As such, I expect to see more retailers offering collections from home in the new year. 

“Our research has shown that collection from home is the fourth most popular returns option for consumers, just ahead of the fastest growing option — lockers. This contactless collection option offered by lockers will continue to increase in popularity as people feel safer using these methods and in many cases, prefer the flexibility of a 24 hour drop off spot.”

Returns to become part of the weekly shop

“In recent times, supermarkets have become the third most popular drop off location after post and parcel shops. For many shoppers, a trip to the supermarket is a weekly, if not more frequent occurrence. So it makes perfect sense that shoppers would like to get as much done as possible whilst they’re there. 

“In many cases, supermarkets have already capitalised on this by offering much more than just food and drink. I expect more retailers to take advantage of this by working with supermarkets to offer a more convenient returns option. Customers will love being able to tick off many of their ‘chores’ in one go, and with some supermarkets open 24-hours, it just provides that added ease of return to suit almost everyone.”

The ‘Green’ returns revolution

“Sustainability continues to be a hot button issue, not just for businesses but also for consumers and I don’t see this slowing down in 2022. If anything, I think it will become more of a deciding factor. Customers will be demanding more green options for returning their goods and therefore I expect to see more retailers utilising couriers and partners with eco-friendly options such as electric vehicles and bicycles.”

Online returns to equal in-store returns 

“Returning to the store isn’t always the most convenient option for most shoppers but often, if they simply want to exchange the product for a different size or colour, it’s the easiest. To reduce customer friction and frustrations, I expect more retailers to incorporate exchanges into their standard returns policy — perhaps Buy Online, Exchange Online (BOEO). Not only does it benefit the customer but also encourages great customer retention and loyalty, so it’s a no brainer for me.”

Throw out the paperwork

“One of the benefits to come from the recent challenges, is a greater adoption and understanding for technologies such as retail QR code. As retailers and consumers both look to be more environmentally-friendly, I expect to see less and less paper involved in packaging and the returns process. Indeed over 60% of consumers already prefer a Label-less return that they do not have to print at home. It’s much simpler for both retailers and shoppers to process their returns with the click of a button rather than ensuring you have all the right paperwork. Furthermore it allows retailers to understand exactly what’s being sent back to the warehouse and why, rather than relying on a returns slip that might not be completed.

“Though as this change is rolled out, retailers will need to ensure instructions are clear and easy to follow, to ensure shoppers have the confidence to manage their returns. Otherwise their call centres will end up inundated with confused customers.”

Branding, branding, branding

“Retailers now view returns as one of the most important parts of their consumer proposition. Beautiful user experience and branding is now a high up on the retailer wish-list too. Seamless, branded returns portals are the future as retailers need to up their game to keep their customers happy and protect their image at the same time.”

Data is key

“Data driven decision making is also a key reason retailers are moving away from the label in the box. Brands are increasingly moving towards direct to consumer offerings too, but they all want to know ‘who, what, where,when and why’ products are being returned. Reporting and dashboards offering greater insights and visibility over what is coming back is helping retailers to better manage their supply chain in what will undoubtedly be another tough year ahead.”

By Al Gerrie, CEO at ZigZag

<< back to Retail