Improving Campus Store Returns Management with Smart Technology

Improving the campus store retail experience is not only about knowledgeable staff and shorter lines at the checkout, it is also about the speed and efficiency of the returns process for customers and store employees alike. Smart technology, including smart parcel locker solutions, can significantly improve returns management for campus stores by simplifying and streamlining the reverse logistics process.

The State of Returns

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), consumers are expected to return over $816 billion worth of retail merchandise in 2022.1 Though the rate of returns saw a significant shift between 2020 to 2021 from 10.6% to 16.5%, it has remained stable since with a 16.6% return rate in 2022. This is in spite of the fact that retail sales figures have seen steady growth over the past three years.2

Though return rates and shipping charges appear to be stabilizing, customer returns still pose a costly problem for retailers. Return shipping charges are expensive (both for retailers and consumers), and any eligible items or merchandise need to be in good condition – ideally original condition – in order to be returned to inventory. If the merchandise is used or damaged, it must be sold at a discounted price or sent to the landfill. In fact, it’s estimated that five billion pounds of these retail returns end up in landfills every year!3

To attempt and account for these costs, some retailers are adjusting their return policy to require returned items be in original condition, in original packaging, and in some cases, be processed for a small return fee (or restocking fee). However, this can create a disconnect for customers’ expectations for the process of shipping or processing a return package– especially for campus stores, which often process rented or returned merchandise (i.e., used textbooks, course-specific supplies or engagement tools, etc.).

Why the Returns Process Matters to Your Customers

A customer at a campus retail store or bookstore expects a streamlined in-store and online experience for returns as well as for sales. More and more, college shopping decisions are shaped not only by the quality of the initial purchase experience but also by the ease with which customers can make product returns. This often means offering free returns, a timely refund for returned merchandise, and convenient ways to return – in-store returns, free return shipping, etc. The returns experience and the returns management process can even impact customer loyalty and satisfaction.

  • 96% of customers would be more inclined to buy from a business that provides a “very easy” or “easy” returns process.4
  • 62% of shoppers prefer buying online when they can make a return at a nearby store.5
  • 15% of shoppers made an additional purchase when completing an in-store return for online purchases.*

Like other retailers, college stores have to work towards creating a frictionless, convenient, and cost-effective returns process. Forming strong alliances with students, faculty and administration is critical to driving online and foot traffic to the campus bookstore rather than to competing online retailers.6 Incorporating innovative technology is also an important element in the process.

Smart Technology for Returns Management

One way to bridge the gap between cost-effective returns and quality customer support and customer service and experience for students, staff, and faculty is smart technology. Here are a few ways smart technology can help manage store returns for your campus store or bookstore:

  • Link to your campus store from the online class schedule and syllabus. Integrations like these make it easy for students to get or return course-based materials.
  • Quick and easy returns with smart lockers. Take advantage of technology like smart university parcel lockers to facilitate self-service returns for students, staff, faculty, and other campus visitors.
  • Offer more used books (and easy way for students to turn them in). Tools such as SimpleSource can maximize the number of used books and other academic resources available to students. Plus, a smart electronic locker can help streamline the sales and exchange process between book owner and the new buyer.
  • Quick and easy returns. Take advantage of technology like a smart parcel locker to facilitate self-service returns for students, staff, faculty, and other campus visitors.
  • Business analytics. Invest in technology systems that provide actionable data and business intelligence. Data can give campus store managers the information they need to determine customer buying and returning habits and help generate a more targeted selection of merchandise.

Managing Returns with Smart Lockers

Smart lockers can provide an easy, self-service way to facilitate the returns process for students, staff, faculty, and even campus visitors. Many of us are familiar with using smart lockers as part of the Buy Online, Pick-up in Store (BOPIS) process, but they can also be used to streamline returns.

With smart locker technology, campus stores can easily balance capacity between pick-ups and returns as needed and provide a customer- and budget-friendly solution to address the mounting pressures and costs for seamless returns. Given the fact that returns to store are the lowest cost option for retailers – campus stores included – returns to store using smart lockers provide a convenient way to facilitate the process that also increases in-store foot traffic.7

How it Works

The returns process for the customer takes less than 30 seconds from start to finish:

  1. The customer receives a personalized QR code via email.
  2. The customer scans the return QR code, and a locker door automatically opens for them.
  3. Once the item is placed inside the locker and the door is closed, the customer receives a confirmation receipt for the returned item.
  4. A campus store employee retrieves the returned item and completes the return logistics process.

Parcel Pending’s smart locker solutions seamlessly integrate with campus store and bookstore sales and returns management processes as well as with customer’s smartphone technology to make returns convenient and streamlined across the board – a win-win for your institution and your customers.

To find out more about how our smart locker solutions can help you improve the returns process for your campus store, campus office, or mailroom services, contact a Parcel Pending representative today.

*based on client data, results may vary


  1. National Retail Federation. 2022 Retail Returns Rate Remains Flat at $816 Billion. www. December 14, 2022.
  2. Ibid
  3. Constable, Harriet. Your brand new returns end up in landfill.
  4. Narvar. Narvar Research Finds Nearly 25% of Consumers Will Pay for Product Returns in Exchange for Convenience. October 31, 2022.
  5. Dopson, Elie. The Plague of Ecommerce Return Rates and How to Maintain Profitability. August 25, 2001.
  6. Schulte, Liz. How Can Your College Store Management System Improve Customer Experience? February 26, 2020.
  7. Parcel Pending. Streamlining Retail Returns With an Open Locker Network.