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Managing Customer Returns: The Shipping Expectation Gap

The holiday season is undoubtedly one of the best times of the year, filled with joy, warmth, and, of course, the feeling of giving and receiving gifts.

As we approach the holiday 2023 season, it’s essential to understand how consumer behavior is shaping the holiday shopping landscape. Here, we’ll explore the widening gap between what consumers expect regarding returns and how retailers are handling returns. Our insights are drawn from our 2023 Consumer Holiday Shipping Report, featuring data from over 2,000 American consumers and powered by Censuswide, a trusted third-party research platform.

The Essence of Returns

Returns, backed by a solid shipping and return policy, have always been an integral part of the shopping experience, but this year, the delta between what consumers desire and what retailers provide is growing more significant than ever. In a world where the convenience of online shopping has become the norm, understanding the intricacies of handling returns is paramount for retailers. The holiday season places this dynamic under a magnifying glass.

It only gets more complicated when you factor in large and bulky items. The returns process for both consumers and retailers alike leaves something to be desired. Luckily, with a partner like uShip, it can actually leave your customers looking at you as a hero. Find out why below.

Returns as Part of the Strategy

The Consumer Holiday Shipping Report highlights a remarkable shift in consumer behavior. Over 31% of shoppers express their intent to make returns a strategic part of their holiday shopping. This means they’re buying multiple items with the full expectation of returning some of them later. The data shows that returns are no longer a minor consideration; they are now a central factor in the decision-making process.

What is causing this shift, and how are retailers reacting? Let’s explore the insights further.

The Frustrations of Yesteryear

Before we delve into the current state of affairs, it’s crucial to understand the frustrations that consumers experienced in the 2022 holiday season. These frustrations laid the groundwork for the changing landscape of holiday shopping. Here are some key findings from the report:

  • In 2022, about a quarter of consumers expressed aggravation because they couldn’t return a gift, or they had to pay more than expected for the return process.
  • Nearly half of shoppers returned at least one gift during the previous holiday season.
  • Over one-fifth of consumers returned three or more gifts in the same period.

These frustrations highlighted the importance of a streamlined and consumer-friendly returns process. They underscored the need for retailers to adapt to consumer expectations. It’s evident that retailers who embraced these changes in time had an edge in shaping their holiday season’s success.

The Power of Returns-Friendly Retailers


The report demonstrates a powerful correlation between retailers’ return policies and consumers’ purchase intent. Retailers who offer these generous return options should see a significant boost in consumer loyalty and sales.

  • Over a quarter of consumers are more likely to choose one retailer over another if they offer free shipping and returns.
  • Nearly one-third of consumers exclusively consider retailers who provide free shipping and returns.
  • Additionally, just under a quarter of consumers found paying for standard shipping in the previous holiday season to be one of their major pet peeves.

These findings highlight that returns-friendly retailers have a competitive advantage. In the eyes of consumers, these retailers prioritize their convenience, satisfaction, and trust. They acknowledge the importance of a seamless returns process as a powerful decision-making factor, especially during the holiday season. What’s more is these policies help build consumer loyalty—it establishes trust that they’re going to be taken care of should something happen.

A Shift in Shopping Timelines

While returns are emerging as a critical consideration in holiday shopping, consumer behavior regarding when they shop is also undergoing significant changes. The report reveals that 30% of consumers plan to delay their holiday shopping until early December or the week before Christmas.

  • Just under half of consumers plan to conduct at least 50% of their holiday gift shopping online.
  • Among online shoppers, nearly half prefer to have their purchases shipped to them rather than picking them up in-store.

Those facts coupled with consumers doing their shopping later are going to compound supply chain issues which will only add to consumer frustration.

While buyers expect fast and free shipping, they are also advocating for sustainability. The data shows that nearly two-thirds of consumers would be more inclined to purchase from a retailer that prioritizes sustainable shipping. This dual expectation—fast, free shipping and eco-conscious practices—creates a unique challenge for retailers.

The Challenge of Shipping Large and Bulky Items

Consumers still want large and bulky items like furniture, kayaks, or home appliances, during the holiday season. However, perceived shipping inconveniences have deterred gift-givers from purchasing these larger goods. The report highlights some key findings:

  • Nearly one-third of consumers would be deterred from buying a large item if they perceived the shipping and delivery process as complicated.
  • 25% cited lengthy expected delivery times as another deterrent to purchasing large items.
  • Almost one-fifth of consumers found receiving damaged or incorrect items to be a significant frustration during the previous holiday season.

What does this mean for retailers? Large and bulky items often generate significant profit for businesses, but the data reveals that consumers are avoiding these purchases due to perceived shipping and returns difficulties. However, retailers have an opportunity to enhance the experience of purchasing large goods during the holiday season and transform consumers’ perceptions of the process.

With uShip, retailers can offer reduced transit times and get items to customer’s homes in time for the holidays. With our first-to-final mile delivery model, large items are picked up from a business and delivered directly to a customer’s desired location, significantly decreasing shipping times and damage rates.

Bridging the Gap

The 2023 holiday shopping season is shaping up to be a transformative period for retailers and consumers alike. Returns are no longer an afterthought but a central element of the shopping strategy. Shoppers are expecting a streamlined, user-friendly process that encompasses not only fast and free shipping but also eco-conscious practices.

Retailers must recognize that their consumers are placing returns at the forefront of their minds. By offering a seamless return experience, understanding shifting shopping timelines, and addressing the complexities of delivering large and bulky items, retailers can make the 2023 holiday shopping season a success.

Heather Hoover-Salomon, CEO of uShip, emphasizes the importance of planning with returns in mind: “The more retailers begin to plan with this [returns] in mind today, the smoother the experience will be for shipper and consumer alike in the months to come.”

As the holiday season unfolds, businesses must adapt and cater to these changing consumer behaviors, ensuring a positive shopping experience for all. The key to success lies in bridging the gap between consumer expectations and what retailers offer, and embracing this shift in shopping dynamics.

The easiest, cost-effective way to do this? uShip. With direct point A to B delivery, you mitigate damage to the product while streamlining your shipping efforts. There’s no friction in returns when your customers don’t have to worry about prepping, packaging, and getting their return out the door. While the product may not have met their expectations, the level of customer satisfaction you can leave behind builds the loyalty you need to retain customers in the future. uShip will change how you look at returns. Let’s talk about how.

If you want to see all the nitty gritty details from the report to help you understand how the holiday landscape has changed, download it now for free.