With lockdowns, quarantines and social distancing, most of us have done our fair share of e-commerce retail therapy. Mind you, it has not just been virtual window shopping — e-commerce is booming and sales flourish. Fast forward to the high season. We did our Black Friday shopping, our holiday shopping, and soon it will be back to school sales.  It doesn’t matter what the new normal looks like — in whatever eventuality — whether one is buying sweater pants for walking the dog or for working from home, the common refrain for 2020 has been buy, return, repeat.

How did we get into this pattern?

Online shopping has been a safe respite from the invisible virus, but this doesn’t change the fact that what we order:

  • doesn’t always meet our expectations,
  • is not what we necessarily need or want, and
  • is easy to return if we have a change in heart.

Or, there are three ways to break down the challenge of online product returns:

  • by avoiding them in the first place: for instance using technology to ensure size and that what-you-see-is-what-you-get,
  • by educating ourselves on the consumer role in the e-commerce story. This means that we as consumers become more accountable for our decision making, and finally,
  • by making the best possible post-purchase returns decisions.

However e-commerce retailers choose to tackle this issue, returns are here to stay and are likely to balloon beyond their already gargantuan proportions in the months to come.

Beyond the flooding of returns, it is undeniable that 2020 exposed multiple challenges for the retail industry in the shadow of COVID-19, but what is also undeniable is the resilience that we have seen.

Here is a brief celebration of some resilience highlights:

  • The increase of the e-commerce experience and adoption
  • The reboot of the supply chain from almost complete halt to a gradual return to business as close to usual as possible
  • The reframing and digitization of the physical store experience to enable continued ongoing retail activity
  • In between lock downs — the flocking of the public to physical stores — gives a strong signal that offline retail is desired more than ever
  • The general desire to not go back to the way we were, but to find ways that are more sustainable, more circular and more accountable
  • The integration of new technologies to aid, sustain and help retailers during this period
  • Working from home in ways that no one ever dreamed was possible, while still being mindful of the others sharing your space: kin, friends, and pets
  • For those of us who continued to provide services and business: the adaptation to new rules, regulation, sanitation and practices

None of these should be taken for granted. The ability that we have shown to adapt and move forward is a true testimony to the human spirit and sets the bar high for an optimistic and agile new year.

Wishing you all health, happiness and a prosperous and circular new year.