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Video Games, Home Office Equipment and Smoothie-Blenders

Did customer order and return behavior change during the pandemic?

It has become more than obvious that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the commerce landscape in 2020. For us as returns management specialists an interesting aspect was to understand if these changes also influenced the returns behavior of consumers. A survey conducted by the University of Bamberg’s research team for e-commerce and returns management delivered some interesting insights[1].

Some results, such as the overall growth of the shipping volume were to be expected. It also made sense that the total number of returns grew accordingly. Interestingly, the percentage of returns in the researched sample declined slightly from 17,8% to 15,9%. The researchers saw the reason for this in a changed ordering behavior during the lockdown (more orders for actual needs) and new customer groups, such as older customers, who shifted from retail to e-commerce in the lockdown phase.

“The slight decrease in the returns percentage makes sense, as you don’t return necessities such as groceries, care products, or equipment that you needed for your home office. New buyer groups, such as older customers, might be more careful in their selection, leading to a lower return-rate”, adds BuyBay’s CCO Oliver Lauterwein.

Popular product categories during the first lockdown

The change in the most popular product categories is something we could also observe in our customer base. The percentage for several products grew by a staggering 50 to 100 percent during the first lockdown-period.

The list of popular products among BuyBay customers was led by video games & video consoles (order volume grew by +100%), followed by office equipment such as lamps, printers, headsets, and monitors (50 to 80% growth). Interestingly enough, beard trimmers also belonged to the most ordered products and blenders were nearly as popular as coffee-makers.

“It looks like even if you stay at home playing video games, personal grooming becomes an item at some point. And a lot of home office workers tried to balance their coffee consumption with healthy smoothies from a new blender”, comments Oliver.

More time to try out products?

“Going back to the university survey, two customer behavior changes were of particular interest for our business focus of supporting an efficient and sustainable return management practice of vendors”, Oliver points out.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, customers sent returns back later than before

The researchers compared the numbers of returns that were sent back in the last third of the return period. Only 3 percent of the surveyed companies saw a decline in returns sent back in this period. 71 percent did not report a noticeable change, but 26 percent saw a growth of returns that were sent back later than before the pandemic.

This observation could be confirmed across all seizes of vendors, with the growth of late returns even more evident for mid-sized and large vendors.

The proportion of returns with obvious traces of wear has increased

Only 2 percent of the surveyed companies reported a decline of returns sent back with obvious traces of usage in this period. 74 percent did not report a noticeable change, and 24 percent reported a growth of returns that showed visible traces of wear.

Again, this observation was slightly less noticeable for smaller vendors and even more evident for mid-sized and large vendors.

Pandemic-effect or a long-term trend?

Apparently, during the Covid-19 pandemic customers kept and tested products longer and more intensively before the goods were returned.

“It will be interesting to observe if these changes were only temporarily triggered – e.g. by customers who had more time during the lockdown to test products they ordered. Or if this is a trend that will remain due to new customer groups and general customer behavior in a changed commerce landscape”, concludes Oliver.

[1] The university research team based their conclusions on observations from leading e-commerce retailers with regards to returns management during the first six months of 2020. A total of 103 questionnaires from sample companies that represent 16.6 % of the overall e-commerce sales in Germany were evaluated. This allowed for a realistic and representative analysis of the situation.

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