Target’s Curbside Returns: Convenient—Or Too Convenient?

customers across the country will soon be able to return items to local stores without having to get out of their cars.

The retailer recently said it has completed a successful test in Minneapolis that gave customers the option of returning unwanted purchases as part of its Drive Up service. Target said it will begin rolling out Drive Up returns this spring with the goal of having it available at all of its nearly 2,000 stores by the end of the summer.

Target is touting its new Drive Up returns as an indicator of how it is innovating in the same-day fulfillment space.

Management points to Target’s Shopping Partner option that gives customers the option of designating someone else to pick up a Drive Up or in-store Order Pickup purchase. The “Forgot Something?” button in its app lets customers add items to an existing order for pickup outside or inside its stores.

The retailer has also added StarbucksSBUX
to its Drive Up menu in select locations. Target in November began giving customers at 240 locations in California, Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and West Virginia the ability to place drink and food orders and have their purchase brought to them along with their Drive Up order in the parking lot.

In an online discussion last week on RetailWire, some of the retail experts on the BrainTrust saw Target as a good complement to the retailer’s growing range of services and offerings.

“A few retailers offer curbside returns, including Dick’s, Nordstrom, and DSW,” wrote Neil Saunders, managing partner at GlobalData. “WalmartWMT
also offers the service at select locations. So this isn’t so much a completely unique innovation as it is Target keeping pace with consumer demand and making things more convenient for shoppers. That said, because of the strength of Target’s omnichannel proposition and its success in areas like curbside pickup, I can see this being widely used by its shoppers.”

“Curbside pickups, Starbucks and now returns will make shoppers fall more in love with Target,” wrote Lisa Goller, content marketing strategist. “Returns have ballooned and this innovative approach will help Target cut costs.”

The retailer’s Drive Up service is a popular part of its same-day fulfillment operations. The chain’s customers place their orders via app, drive to designated parking spots in the store’s lot and have their purchases brought to them by a Target team member. Returns work in a similar fashion through the company’s app.

Target’s customers will be able to return most new, unopened items within 90 days of purchase. Customers buying Target-owned brands will be able to make returns for up to a year. No fees are attached to returns at the retailer.

Some BrainTrust members, however, questioned if curbside was the right place for Target to focus, for a number of reasons.

“Personally, I’m delighted to use drive-up exclusively for my Target runs,” wrote Gary Sankary, retail industry strategy at Esri. “That said, I have noticed that demand for the service seems to be way down. Where only a few months ago it was sometimes difficult to find an open BOPIS parking spot, these days I’m often the only car waiting. I’ve also noted that the Walmart BOPIS and home delivery seem to have a lot more same-day openings available when I make a purchase. Again, not so long ago, delivery spots were days out. I wonder if BOPIS is settling in as a niche business.”

“The interesting thing about this is that it’s a great idea, but for retailers other than Target,” wrote Melissa Minkow, director of retail strategy at CI&T. “Target shoppers are in stores so often, I’d think they wouldn’t mind going into the store. Plus, BOPIS tends to be more commonly used than curbside, so I would also guess that would translate into a preference still for going in and returning versus doing it curbside. If this is much faster than in-store returns this could take off, but I’ll be curious to see if it’s a good fit for Target.”

Doug Garnett, president at Protonik, saw potential operational hurdles for the service.

“I fear for Target with this choice,” wrote Mr. Garnett. “Their services have previously been wisely chosen. But taking products to customers in cars is ultimately simple when compared with returns. We need hope for Target that this doesn’t lead to the downfall of their automotive pick up efforts.”

And DeAnn Campbell, chief strategy officer at Hoobil8, was concerned that the service would put a new spin on a longstanding problem.

“I’m all for increasing customer convenience, but this is a move in the wrong direction for Target’s profit margins,” wrote Ms. Campbell. “Returns should be painless, but not necessarily frictionless since friction leads to opportunity both for the retailer and the customer. The goal for any retailer should be to reduce returns, and to increase the odds a customer will buy something else while returning a product.”