Returning to pandemic pastimes

Hobbies picked up during the pandemic come with higher expectations—especially around returns

While some of us kneaded our way to malformed sourdough safety blankets at the height of last year’s pandemic lockdowns, it turns out many others adopted hobbies that had the promise of becoming side gigs. According to one study, 6 in 10 Americans picked up a new hobby during the pandemic. Nearly half of them (48%) earned money from said hobby. In an indication that these hobbies weren’t on a lark, 53% actually incurred credit card debt—primarily to finance special equipment to support their new pastimes.

As we head into what appears to be more quarantine-era behavior among consumers thanks to the recent Delta variant surge, we asked about shopping for some of these hobbies and how it is impacting an oft-overlooked aspect of shopping experience: returns.

  • 40% of consumers say they have bought a specialized hobbyist product (related to photography, cooking, art, high-end computing, outdoors, audio systems, or woodworking) online in the past 12 months.
  • Art/craft supplies (we’re looking at you, Tom Daley) were the most common hobbyist products bought in the last 12 months. 
  • Gen Z and Millennials in particular were most likely to have bought most types of hobbyist products—with a double-digit percentage of Millennials reporting buying each category we inquired about.

How do hobbyists return?

We wanted to know about the returns process because hobbyists tend to be particular—they are buying products that suit a specific need and are willing to pay premium prices for them. This means that there is a higher likelihood of returns if the product doesn’t satisfy those specific needs—and with that higher likelihood, we figured they’d have higher expectations around the returns experience.

  • Those who buy hobbyist products are most likely to return items for a refund (54%) than exchange (36%).T
  • his means two things: 
    • The specificity of their needs implies there is an all-or-nothing attitude towards purchases—if the tool doesn’t fit the needs, they’re unlikely to find a replacement product from the same retailer.
    • Consumers who seek refunds (versus exchanges) have a higher sensitivity to the speed of returns because they aren’t waiting for another product to be shipped back to them.
  • The cost of shipping grows rapidly with faster speed—so knowing how fast is ‘fast enough’ is important.
  • That said, the “speed” of returns can be more about perception than actual speed of transportation. 
    • Many retailers choose to wait until a return (especially items more prone to fraud) is received and processed at a facility before issuing the refund (hence the benefit of returns drop-off locations that offer inspection services—though note that as the Delta variant becomes more prevalent, consumers will further be inconvenienced by requiring a drop off). 
    • Others may issue a refund upon acceptance scan (possibly, as with many of our clients, paired with a weight verification as an anti-fraud measure).
    • Either way, if a refund takes longer than consumers expect, expect calls to your customer care center—which incrementally adds to the cost of returns.
  • And here’s where hobbyist returns differ in the most impactful way. Consumers who return hobbyist products will call customer service more than a day sooner on average than consumers buying products online in general. And among Baby Boomers—expect hobbyists to call more than 2 days sooner than general product purchases. 

BOXpollTM by Pitney Bowes, a weekly consumer survey on current events, culture,and ecommerce logistics. Conducted by Pitney Bowes with Morning Consult //2094 US consumers surveyed September 2021.© Copyright Pitney Bowes Inc.

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