Continuing a growing trend toward making ecommerce returns more convenient and safer for shoppers in the contactless pandemic era, Staples has struck a partnership with Optoro in which the office supply giant will accept unboxed returns from other retailers that will be processed by Optoro.
The program, called Express Returns, is similar to a deal Kohl’s struck with Amazon three years ago, the difference being it involves products ordered from multiple ecommerce and omnichannel retailers that are all processed together, vs. two streams of returns from a Kohl’s store.
The idea is to help shoppers avoid the “arts and crafts” hassle of packaging up and shipping out a return via UPS, FedEx, the U.S. Postal Service or a major consolidator. Optoro’s research found 66% of consumers prefer a store-based return. And like Kohl’s, Staples benefits from increased foot traffic that often translates into incremental purchases, while companies processing returns through a Staples dropoff provide a better customer experience.
Kohl’s executives say the Amazon partnership has been a net-net win, but analysts have questioned the value after the company’s prediction of a boost to its 2019 holiday performance didn’t materialize.
“Through this partnership with Optoro, Staples stores are able to provide safe, contactless return options so customers at 1,000 locations can spend less time on the go and more time at home with family this holiday season,” said Craig Grayson, Vice President/GMM, Print and Marketing Services for Staples US Retail in a release. “The integration of Express Returns will alleviate the stress consumers often face when looking for an easy and efficient way to return products.”
Ecommerce returns are a huge and growing problem, estimated between 20% and 30% of all online purchases, and this holiday season is sure to produce a historic tsunami. Americans return about $400 billion in merchandise each year, according to the National Retail Federation, and returned inventory creates 5 billion lbs. of landfill waste each year, according to Optoro.
This year, UPS handled an estimated 1.9 million returned packages on Jan. 2, what it dubbed “National Returns Day.”
Express Returns lets customers scan a QR code, using technology from Optoro partner Returnly, and conduct a contactless dropoff at a Staples location, without printing out a label or boxing up the item. Optoro’s technology helps triage the return disposition, including tools to help with resale and recommerce, and items are shipped to and processed at one of its centers.
The program can also be used to process returns at ecommerce fulfillment centers as well as retail stores, said Adam Vitarello, president and co-founder of Optoro. He added other major retailers will be joining the Express Returns program when it launches in January. Other Optoro customers include American Eagle Outfitters, Under Armor, Best Buy, Target and Bed Bath & Beyond.
Vitarello said pure-play ecommerce companies are looking for physical locations for returns dropoff, while omnichannel companies with stores and online want to digitize and simplify the process and drive store traffic at a time when footfalls are way down.
“Down the road we’ll see more omnichannel retailers take on the behemoth,” Vitarello said, referring to Amazon. “They’ll create a network of Express Returns locations for themselves and others. Amazon offers such a great returns experience, so these different retailers can band together to offer a similar or better experience. If not, Amazon will continue to put them in the dust.”