Ecommerce Returns Hit 20.8% In 2021

Retailers lost $218 billion to ecommerce returns in 2021, at a rate of 20.8% of goods sold, according to a survey conducted by Apriss Retail for the National Retail Federation, up from 18.1% in 2020, while total retail returns came back at a rate of 16.6% or $761 billion, up from 10.6% last year.

Expressed another way, for every $1 billion in sales during 2021, retailers saw $166 million worth of goods returned, with 10.3% of returns being lost to fraud. The overall return rate was higher for the holiday season, at 17.8%, according to NRF’s data, with a similar fraud rate (10.8%).

“As total retail sales continue to accelerate from sustained consumer demand during the pandemic, it is no surprise that the overall rate of returns has also been impacted,” said Mark Mathews, NRF’s vice president of research development and industry analysis. “While retailers have indicated that they are seeing an increase in items returned to stores and online, the upside is that it also provides them with additional opportunities to connect further with customers and provide a positive experience.”

Categories with the highest return rates in 2021 were auto parts (19.4%), apparel (12.2%) and home improvement and housewares (11.5%). The most common types of payment used that led to a return were credit cards (22.78% of returns), cash (12.69%) and debit cards (7.04%).

While carriers like FedEx and UPS and ecommerce sellers such as Amazon offer no box/no label returns as a customer convenience, this has apparently not caught on with the retailers surveyed by NRF and Apriss. Less than 3% (2.44%) said they didn’t offer the service, with 12.2% saying they planned to do so by last year’s holidays, and another 2.44% said they would roll it out after the holidays.

The survey of 57 retailers was conducted by Apriss Retail between Oct. 13-Nov. 15, 2021.