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Amazon and Kohl’s introduced buy online, return in store (BORIS) in 2017 — now BORIS is getting an upgrade.
Around the same time BOPIS originally emerged in 2017, Amazon partnered with Kohl’s to let its customers return Amazon purchases at their local Kohl’s store. Amazon won by making returns more convenient and driving customer loyalty; Kohl’s won by getting extra foot traffic and adding two million new customers from the partnership by 2021.
Now, retailers like H&M, Zara, and Abercrombie & Fitch are making “buy online, return in store” (BORIS) part of their own returns process — not to increase foot traffic, but to decrease reverse logistics costs while driving customer loyalty through optionality.
Giving customers the option to return items in-store is more important than ever as 45% of retailers have started charging for mail-in returns within the last 12 months.
For example, H&M charges $5.99 for mail-in returns to customers who are not members of the company’s free loyalty program. And members and non-members alike must wait up to two weeks for return credit to post to their account. This is not a great experience. To make matters worse, customers must make a special trip to a UPS store to return items.
With all these caveats to mail-in returns, BORIS becomes a feature of convenience. And for retailers with good inventory technology, it can significantly reduce reverse logistics costs. Instead of shipping returned items back to a distant warehouse, retailers can immediately restock returned items in the store where the return was made.
Faster refunds for customers, lower logistics costs for retailers, and less impact on the environment. This makes BORIS an all-around win. It’s also not surprising that 47% of retailers reported an increase in BORIS within the last 12 months.
Soon, mail-in returns will become the exception rather than the rule, especially as retailers apply learnings from local fulfillment options like BOPIS and curbside pickup to local returns.
While covering BOPIS last week I discovered that waiting in line is the leading turn-off for customers that use BOPIS. I expect the same is true for customers who use BORIS and why retailers like Target are getting in front of this with curbside returns.
“Our journey to expand our fulfillment options starts with making it easier for our guests to shop with us. That’s why we’re launching Drive Up Returns. Allowing our guests to process a return from the comfort of their car underscores our commitment to helping our guests shop — and return — however they choose.” - Mark Schindele, Chief Stores Officer @ Target
This is a cost-savings play as well. Target already offers BOPIS, curbside pickup, same-day delivery, and ground shipping on its website. This points to a backend made up of connected logistics and inventory technology that could support local restocking. Again, instead of sending items back to a central warehouse, Target can restock many returned items at the store to cut reverse logistics costs.
The ideal state for retailers is no returns, which is why investments in augmented reality and frontend ecommerce technologies continue to be made. However, there’s a chance for retailers to work toward decreasing returns while accepting the reality that they will always exist. The retailers that do this will create a full-circle omnichannel experience.
If Target can bring your favorite Starbucks drink to your car when you’re making a return, anything is possible.