This holiday is over, for retailers. The tally of sales is grim for brick and mortar. Holiday spending rose 3%, but it was driven by a 49% rise in e-commerce. For another year, foot traffic fell. 2020 was simply worse than others, due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As MasterCard SpendingPulse reported the 3% rise, its researchers pointed out that the figure was at the low end of most forecasts. And, the mix of consumer shopping patterns changed considerably. Steve Sadove, senior advisor for Mastercard and former CEO and Chairman of Saks Incorporated, said “American consumers turned the holiday season on its head, redefining ‘home for the holidays’ in a uniquely 2020 way. They shopped from home for the home, leading to record e-commerce growth.”
What has not changed is that Americans return million of gifts each year, in exchange for other gifts, for cash, or store credit. The National Retail Federation put the total value of returned gifts last year at $309 billion, which is about 8% of all gifts sold.
On the NRF list of gifts returned by category, shoes were at the top. “Footwear” returned were 15.8% of their total sales. The category was followed by “apparel” at 12.5%.
The “shoe return” data was given additional credence by a study Veritas Gifts and published by House Beautiful. The research also gave the reasons why:
Coming in at the top of the list is shoes, as the study found that people are gifted styles they don’t like. Another reason they get returned is that people aren’t checking which size to buy beforehand.
Shoe retailers have tried to keep the return rate down with several aids that help people buy the right shoes. Among them are “shoe size charts”. These allow people who shop online to determine their size by region. The U.S., Europe, and the U.K. use different measures. Another method is photos of shoes in each color and style they come in.
However, the flaws of the system are such that retailers acknowledge them. Foot Locker, for example, offers this option on its website: “Your satisfaction is guaranteed. We promise the items you order will fit right or you can return them for free.” It calls this its “Fit Guarantee” policy.
And, even if consumers know their own shoe sizes, the people who buy them shoes as gifts may not, which only compounds the problem.