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E-Commerce Turns Holiday Package Return Rush on Its Head

With another sign that e-commerce has changed retail shopping patterns and the logistics needed to serve it, UPS Inc. said National Returns Day already happened.

UPS estimated 1.5 million returns to have been made on Thursday, Dec. 19, dubbed National Returns Day, setting a record for the sixth consecutive year. That National Returns Day occurred prior to Christmas reflects just how deeply e-commerce is reshaping the retail universe, according to UPS, noting that a second returns rush expected in early January.

In past years, National Returns Day occurred in early January and represented the highest jump of packages for the entire year. Returns are still expected to hit 1.3 million packages on Jan. 3, but this will now represent the second wave and be outpaced by Dec. 19 returns of 1.5 million, the package delivery giant said. These returns are included in the 800 million packages UPS anticipates delivering this holiday season.

Consumers who got a jump on online shopping in the days before Black Friday are expected to begin returning more than 1 million packages each day this month, jump-starting the holiday returns season earlier than ever. The early spike is driven by self-gifting due to retailer promotions, express shipping for deliveries and returns, simplified returns processes and advanced re-stocking and management systems, UPS noted.

”UPS understands the essential and evolving role that package returns play in e-commerce,” said Kevin Warren, UPS’s chief marketing officer. “As a result, UPS has helped our customers get ahead of the curve with a portfolio of technology-driven returns services. We help retailers deliver a premium experience that manages the cost of the returns process, while meeting the needs of today’s discerning consumer.”

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The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) said it expects to process and deliver nearly 3 billion pieces of mail, which includes packages, this week alone. In the two weeks leading up to Christmas, Dec. 10 to 23, the Postal Service expects to deliver nearly 200 million packages each week.

The Postal Service already delivers packages on Sundays in most major cities and, to handle the surge in holiday volume, the agency expanded its Sunday delivery operations in select high package volume locations. USPS expects to deliver more than 8 million packages each Sunday in December. Mail carriers will also deliver Priority Mail Express packages on Christmas Day in select locations.

USPS expects that nearly 5 million consumers will take advantage of convenient online services, like Click-N-Ship, to order free Priority Mail boxes, print shipping labels, purchase postage and request free next-day Package Pickup.

UPS said research consistently shows that to succeed in e-commerce, merchants need to offer comprehensive returns services. UPS’s Pulse of the Online Shopper study found that 75 percent of consumers have shipped returns back to the retailer, 79 percent of e-commerce shoppers said free shipping on returns is important when selecting an online retailer and 44 percent said the top issue encountered when returning an item online is paying for return shipping.

UPS’s returns services include UPS Returns Manager, a portal offering shippers control and visibility over their returns. The service allows shippers of all sizes to create and manage returns policies and designate the return destination. UPS Returns Plus allows the merchant to send a driver to deliver a return label and pick up the return package from any address, while UPS Returns Exchange allows a driver to simultaneously picks up the return item in exchange for the replacement item delivery. In addition, UPS print return labels can be included in outbound shipments to simplify the returns process and electronic return labels can be emailed to consumers directly from UPS to improve their returns experience.

“Leading retailers and brands understand that the returns moment is an increasingly important time to drive future customer loyalty and engagement,” said Tobin Moore, co-founder and CEO of Optoro.

An Optoro study found that 97 percent of consumers are more likely to buy something again from a retailer with which they had a positive returns experience, while 89 percent will not shop again at a retailer or brand with which they had a negative returns experience.