The junk in your customers’ trunk is costing you

The pandemic is affecting the time it takes to recover online returns while impacting customer service calls.

In our 2019 Online Shopping Study, we used the term trunk time (something we, in fact, coined back in 2003) to call attention to how long consumers tend to wait before returning an online purchase. Our report called the inconvenience of having to travel to a returns drop-off location as the most ascribable reason consumers wait longer. More than 16 months and a global pandemic later, the word inconvenient now seems like a quaint—if not sardonic—way to describe the risk many consumers perceive in visiting a returns drop-off location.

  • But, as our findings last month showed, nearly 1 in 3 consumers live in a location where home pickup is not available, and more than half don’t (or can’t) print shipping labels at home. 
  • For these shoppers, returns drop-off is the only option, regardless of how high they perceive the risks to be. 
  • So, it’s not surprising that the average US consumer waits about a week (6 days) on average before returning their purchase. 
  • This is an increase of approximately 2 days from our 2019 survey, underscoring the impact the pandemic has had on consumer behavior.

Trunk time drag race

  • Who’s fastest at returning? Baby Boomers seem to be on it, taking 1 day less on average than consumers overall.
  • Who’s slower at returning? Millennials, high earners ($100K+), urban dwellers and parents all tend to take 1 or more days longer than consumers overall.
  • Who’s the slowest? Clocking in at 13 days on average are those who describe their communities as being in the early stages of COVID.
Trunk time extends the return lifecycle chart

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 (albeit self-inflicted) delay in closing out the order experience—whether in finding the product they actually want or the receipt of a refund/credit.


While ecommerce operators, carriers and consumers alike may have become inured to some level of pandemic-related delays, the impact has been perhaps no harder felt than by the weary customer care rep. Now, in the aftermath of the interminable WISMO (“where is my order?”) calls over the holidays, come the deluge of dreaded WAIGMR calls (that’s “when am I getting my refund?”—which we just made up, natch). Sorry, CSRs.

  • To help customer care departments better forecast inbound calls from the WAIGMR invasion, we asked consumers how long they waited after returning an item before contacting customer service about a refund.
  • Averaged across all respondents, the answer was 9 days from initiating a return to hitting the WAIGMR button.
  • Nearly a third (31%) will call customer care if they haven’t received a refund by day 4.

As returns peak draws to a close, we’ll continue to prod consumers about their shifting returns habits. With Spring and Summer holidays approaching, and optimism about vaccine distribution poised to grow—we’ve no doubt that aspirational vacation purchases are bound to increase. And with it we expect a renewed growth of returns, compounded by trunk time and, yes, WAIGMRs.

BOXpoll™ 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 January 2021.© Copyright Pitney Bowes Inc.

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