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Zappos adds box-free returns dropoff at Whole Foods

First, there was BOPIS. This partnership between Amazon companies signals the rise of BORIS.

people walking on market during daytime
Photo by Brittani Burns on Unsplash

Two Amazon subsidiaries are teaming up to provide customers with more return options.

The news: Footwear and apparel-focused ecommerce platform Zappos.com is launching a new returns service that allows customers to turn items back in without a box or label. Plus, returns can be dropped off in-person at Whole Foods Market stores nationwide.

How it works:

Customers start a Zappos return process through the company’s system. If it qualifies for dropoff, they will see the “Label Free Box Free” option populate in the menu.

Items can then be taken to a Whole Foods Market location in the original packaging, without a box.

Customers drop off an item at the customer service desk or return kiosk at a Whole Foods, and show the return code to an associate.

Key quote from Zappos.com CEO Scott Schaefer: “Being a customer-first company is in Zappos' DNA. As our customers' needs evolve, we evolve with them to ensure we're exceeding expectations…With Label Free Box Free Returns, we're excited to not only be better serving our customers, but also to have found a natural partner in Whole Foods Market.”

A returns pioneer: Any return innovation from Zappos is notable, given its place in creating the norms of ecommerce policies that are frequently used today. Even before it was acquired by Amazon in 2009, Zappos pioneered free shipping and free returns. These soon became widely standardized practices for a new generation of digital brands and retailers that were focused on creating a great customer experience, and easing processes for shoppers who couldn’t touch and feel an item before they bought it. Zappos still has a return policy that stands out: Returns are still free, and can be shipped from anywhere in the U.S. within 365 days of purchase.

Today’s returns conundrum: The new partnership comes as brands and retailers are facing dueling priorities when it comes to returns. For one, they want to continue creating a great customer experience, especially as logistics innovation opens up new options. At the same time, returns are piling up. The return rate for the 2022 holiday season grew 63% over the prior year, Salesforce found. This challenges the capacity of logistics systems to process returns, and it can also eat into profits that are already being pressured by a tough macroeconomic environment.

How this partnership provides an answer: Let’s break down Zappos’ new service:

For the customer, box-free and label-free returns reduce hassle. Customers don’t have to find a box and pack it in order to send an item back.

Dropoff also adds ease. In one sense, Whole Foods dropoff does add a step for the consumer, as it requires them to bring an item to a location. But in the context of every day life, it can create a measure of convenience. Dropping off a return at the grocery store saves a trip to the post office or store. This can help customers to combine errands. We already have BOPIS, or Buy Online Pickup in Store. A new wave of returns dropoff is ushering in BORIS, or Buy Online Return in Store.

For Zappos, which is the retailer, there are a number of logistics advantages. The dropoff saves a step of having to rely on carrier pickup. The company can consolidate returns at Whole Foods locations, and plan routing accordingly. It also gives Zappos branding at Whole Foods stores, which could help the company stand out in customers’ minds when they go to make a future purchase.

For Whole Foods, it gives people another reason to visit stores, where they may be likely to buy a grocery item while they are there. Zappos is helped in this case by its alignment with Amazon, which also has returns dropoff at Whole Foods. Dropoff of sneakers and apparel is another way that Whole Foods is growing beyond its core business of selling grocery items to becoming a hub of activity under Amazon’s orbit.

The bottom line: With pickup, box-free and dropoff policies being adopted, there’s a new wave of returns innovation taking shape. Zappos wants to continue to be on the forefront and this partnership will help. For more examples, check out The Current’s recent look at new policies from Amazon, FedEx and DoorDash.
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