Image caption: “car parked in the driveway in front of a house, with many cardboard boxes visible through the car's back window.” Artwork by DALL-E / Courtesy OpenAI, edited by Pitney Bowes.
Trunk time. It’s a term we coined back in 2003 to call attention to how long consumers tend to wait before returning an online purchase, often because of the perceived inconvenience of having to travel to a returns drop-off location.
The impact of trunk time is twofold: for retailers, it creates a drag on inventory costs as delayed returns tend to diminish resale value, erode margins, and create uncertainty around labor and space planning. For consumers, it is a (self-inflicted) delay in closing out the order experience—whether in finding the product they actually want or getting their refund/credit.
Despite being acutely aware of these realities, the author must admit to her small stack of holiday returns waiting by the front door as of time of writing. (It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it's me...)
In a follow-up to our 2021 trunk time survey, which found a drastic 2-day jump from 2019, our latest data reveals yet another increase. Shoppers now wait an average of 6.5 days before returning an online purchase, compared to 6.1 days in 2021.
- While trunk time increased by almost half a day for the average consumer, it jumped more than a full day for GenZers, who have usurped Millennials’ title of “slowest returners.”
- Baby Boomers are still the fastest to return their orders.
- Consumers are busier now than when we last asked this question in January 2021. They’re traveling more, their social calendars are popping, and driving to a carrier store to drop off a return is no longer at the top of the priority list.
- The longer trunk time drags on, the more it’s costing online retailers, especially with seasonal items. Christmas jammies in July, anyone?
- In a possible silver lining for retailers, the average number of items consumers accumulate before dropping off returns to a carrier location has dropped since late 2021. While they still wait more than 6 days to return a purchase, at least there isn’t the added obstacle of “I’m not making a trip until I have 3-4 items to drop off.”
- Softer ecommerce volumes are a likely culprit, as consumers have less to return than they did during the height of the pandemic.
- However, persistent inflation and resulting refund sensitivity, shrinking return windows, and shorter lines at shipping centers are also likely providing carrot-and-stick motivation for consumers not to wait until their trunk runneth over to drop off returns.
- Some more welcome news: Returning multiple items from the same online order is relatively rare. Aside from apparel, which comes with notorious size/fit challenges and the dreaded practice of bracketing, less than one-quarter of consumers returned more than one item from an order in the last six months.
- Online retailers, if you’re seeing higher rates of multiple item returns, this may be a sign of issues with product descriptions on your website.
- The amount of time the average consumer will wait before gracing customer care with a WISMR (“where is my refund”) call has only slightly changed—8.4 days in late 2022, compared to 8.6 days in 2021.
- GenZers are the least patient about the status of their refunds, chopping their “willing to wait” time from 8.2 to 7.6 days. GenXers, on the other hand, grew more zen, moving from 8.0 to 8.4 days before calling.
BOXpoll™ by Pitney Bowes, a weekly consumer survey on current events, culture, and ecommerce logistics. Conducted by Pitney Bowes with Morning Consult // 2200 US consumers surveyed November 2022. © Copyright Pitney Bowes Inc.