Woman holding a package while looking at her phone

Retailers make returns easy for consumers with smart lockers


Take the stress out of holiday shopping for employees and customers with intelligent return lockers for easy retail returns.

Read time: 4 minutes

Retail spend is up — and so are returns.

For consumers, it’s easier than ever to order just about everything online. A recent report predicted that U.S. online retail sales will reach $1.14 trillion this year, up 10% year over year.¹ And, when you combine that with brick-and-mortar businesses, the total amount of money spent is almost $5 trillion.²

But what about the “R” word? Yes, “returns.”

Retail returns management can present many challenges for businesses of all sizes.

On average, the retail return rate is 16.4% for eCommerce and 16.5% for in-store purchases, accounting for hundreds of billions of dollars. During the holiday shopping season, that rate increases substantially by 8.48%, often due to customers buying multiple sizes and returning the sizes that don’t fit.³

These high percentages of returns for retailers during the peak holiday season can have a negative ripple effect and present challenges, from long lines in stores or return outlets for online purchases, extra processing and accounting time, frustration from employees and customers, traffic, and more.

Think out-of-the-box by putting returns into a box

Intelligent lockers are a better, more efficient way to handle returns for retailers. Many of the big box stores, as well as Amazon, have already implemented intelligent return lockers — but lockers aren’t only for large enterprises. Here’s how it works once the lockers are installed:

  • Customers with returns go online and a locker number and secure code are generated

  • Customers go to the locker location and put returns inside

  • Employees retrieve and scan returns at slower times of the day for processing

  • Customers are automatically notified of items returned via email or a portal and the transaction is posted

Smart or intelligent lockers also work in reverse: Buy Online Pick-up In-store (BOPIS). In fact, a recent Harris Poll study revealed that 77% of shoppers would consider BOPIS and 76% would consider using lockers to return online purchases.

Could making holiday gift purchasing and returns easier for many consumers also relieve some of that pent-up stress that is often more prevalent during the holiday season? Newsweek reported that 49% of people surveyed felt increased anxiety during the holidays.⁴ This presents an opportunity for retailers to help their customers by offering hassle-free, contactless deliveries and returns, and presenting them with the upside of less anxiety by avoiding lines and large crowds. Best of all, it empowers customers to return items when it’s most convenient for them.

Labor shortages in retail are a reality

While retail isn’t the only industry affected by the labor shortages nationwide, it has been significantly impacted. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the retail industry currently has 5.5 million more job openings than there are workers to fill them.⁵ That figure may put you on edge and make you wonder how and whom you can employ to conquer the logistics, IT or services for intelligent lockers.

That’s where forming partnerships can be beneficial. Ricoh Service Advantage is the ideal solution to help bridge the knowledge and skills gap allowing for growth and the ability to scale, especially during the holidays. Ricoh employs thousands of skilled service delivery and technician professionals who can assist you through a managed services program with those logistics, devices, IT, and other services that enable your business to thrive. It’s a flexible option for businesses as the holiday season approaches.

Smart lockers for theft prevention or asset management

Speaking of lockers – you may also be looking for asset management for your employees or IT teams. Intelligent lockers help reduce loss, theft, and unauthorized use allowing you to safely house, manage, and track costly retail tech such as tablets, handheld scanners, and more. Smart lockers can also be helpful with safely storing team members’ uniforms, badges and non-technical items as well.

Customer experience matters, so ease the burden

At the end of every day, making customers happy is what keeps most businesses afloat. In retail, there are usually many options when it comes to products, clothes, food, technology, and gifts, so prioritizing the customer experience is crucial during the holidays and beyond. We all depend on customer loyalty and satisfaction, even when it comes to those dreaded returns.

Smart and intelligent return locker technology, use cases, and service offerings have come a long way. They are cloud-based and can be serviced from a platform remotely and conveniently. They can be integrated with your existing applications. Reporting and analytics can be used to measure the success of the return program as well as trends and customer insights. Employees can access and process the returns at convenient times during their shifts. And, don’t forget that the lockers can be branded or used for marketing messages.

New intelligent or smart lockers are modernizing the way retail returns management works. Today’s technology has evolved customers’ expectations to have fast, efficient service and multiple options to their choosing. If you don’t do it, someone else will.

Learn more about smart return lockers and how to combat holiday overload with returns.

Find the right solution for your business

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  1. 1Retail Dive. “US e-commerce sales to exceed $1.1 trillion in 2023: report.” July 11, 2023.
  2. 2CapitalOne Shopping Research. “Retail Return Rate Statistics.” February 29, 2023.
  3. 3CapitalOne Shopping Research. “Retail Return Rate Statistics.” February 29, 2023.
  4. 4Newsweek.” Americans Are Stressed About the Holidays, but Less Than Last Year: Study.” November 30, 2022.
  5. 5Integrated Cash Logistics. “What You Need to Know About The Retail Labor Shortage in 2023.” June 20, 2023.