Apr 30, 2023

Question of the Day: What percent of online purchases are returned to the retailer?

In the past, retailers tended to overlook what happened after the sale, but returns have become a major factor in online shopping

Answer: 20.8%



  • Have you (or someone you know) ever returned something that was purchased online? If so, why? 
  • What items do you think are most likely to be returned? least likely?
  • While it is "FREE", what do you think are the costs involved for the retailer? Who is picking up these costs if they are "FREE" to you?
  • What are steps that you can take to avoid returning items you bought online? 

Click here for the ready-to-go slides for this Question of the Day that you can use in your classroom.


Behind the numbers (CNBC):

"The average rate of returns for online purchases was 20.8% — an increase from 18.1% last year, NRF found.

In the past, retailers tended to overlook what happened after the sale, said Mehmet Sekip Altug, associate business professor at George Mason University. But “as online sales increase, the return rate has also increased significantly, and I don’t think it’s a secondary problem anymore,” he said.

Altug pointed to direct-to-consumer brands like Warby Parker that have opened stores that act as showrooms where people can see items in person rather than relying on a website’s pictures. Other retailers encourage customers to return an online purchase to a store by waiving fees — with the hope of enticing them to buy something else.

Holiday returns are expected to rise higher, too. On average, retailers expect 17.8% or $158 billion of merchandise sold in November and December to be returned, the survey found. Holiday sales expanded 14.1% year over year and hit a record $886.7 billion, according to the trade group."



Returns are not really free as you will discover in this Planet Money podcast, No such thing as a free return. 

About the Author

Mason Butts

After graduating from UCLA with a Master's in Education, Mason spent 5 years as a science educator in a South Los Angeles public high school. He is committed to supporting the holistic growth of all students and empowering them to live a life of relational, academic, and financial success. Now settled in the Bay Area, Mason enjoys facilitating professional developments and partnering with educators as they prepare students for a bright financial future. When Mason is not building curriculum or planning a training, he can be found cycling, trying new foods, and exploring the outdoors.

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