(NEXSTAR) — As Americans start to think about their holiday shopping plans amid the pandemic, practicality seems to be the buzzword for consumers seeking to avoid having to return or exchange unwanted items.
While 77% of consumers planned to make at least one return last year, only 38% plan to do so this year, according to a new survey from Oracle Retail.
To that end, consumers, many of whom want to limit their travel amid the coronavirus pandemic, plan to purchase more practical gifts, such as gift cards and necessities, according to the retail solutions firm.
“With more consumers avoiding returns, redeeming gift cards will be the next big opportunity for retailers to engage customers and extend sales post-holiday,” said Oracle Retail SVP and general manager Mike Webster.
The survey found that 27% of shoppers said they plan to spend more on gift cards this year, placing it among the top holiday gift choices. The top choice for 39% of those surveyed was apparel and necessities, and electronics ranked second at 29%. Other gifts that consumers plan to spend more on include sporting goods or hobby-type products (19%) and luxury items such as handbags or jewelry (15%).
The COVID-19 outbreak has led many retailers to adjust their return policies. While some stores have extended their window for returns, others have suspended all returns or returns of select items.
However, the desire to avoid returns doesn’t necessarily mean shoppers will avoid stores altogether. The survey found that nearly 20% of respondents plan to do most of their shopping in stores, while 47% plan to split purchases between online and physical locations. Another 16% said they would do curbside pickups.
“The holidays promise to test a retailer’s ability to serve customers how and where they want to shop,” Webster said. “With customers shopping both online and in-store, and taking advantage of new retrieval options such as curbside pick-up and buy online, pick up in store, retailers are going to have to be firing on all cylinders to meet customer expectations in an already difficult environment.”
According to the survey, shoppers are considering a few things when deciding to buy this year: great prices, special offers or discounts, immediate product availability and fast shipping.
With that said, a sure way for retailers to get on shoppers’ naughty list would be to run out of inventory, according to Oracle. Nearly half (47%) of those surveyed said out-of-stock goods were the top reason for a bad shopping experience, while 63% said they’re unwilling to wait for an item to be back in stock before turning to other brands.
“In the pandemic, many retailers’ in-store stock was depleted or completely sold out,” said Webster. “During the holidays, it will be critical for retailers to fill the shelves and use their physical locations both to serve shoppers and as fulfillment centers to handle online orders and get shipments out to customers quickly.”
And as home delivery remains the top way for consumers to receive their purchases, 73% of them said that real-time updates throughout the delivery process are important for more stress-free holiday shopping.
“Every parent nervously waiting for their child’s holiday gift to arrive will attest that transparency from retailers is an absolute must,” said Webster. “Brands have to have the systems in place to communicate with customers every step of the way, from ordering through to delivery.”