The events of the past year have forced companies everywhere to rethink, revise, and reinvent offerings, operations, sales strategies, and pretty much everything in between. In the spirit of starting anew, here are a few unfashionable trends retailers and brands should "remove from cart" or risk losing customers.

Strict Return Policies

Returns are a cost of doing retail business, especially online. According to my company's latest research on e-commerce consumers, 55 percent of survey respondents won't even shop with a company that doesn't offer free returns. But this piece of the business also presents an opportunity to streamline efficiencies and improve the almighty customer experience. While processing returns requires material and labor costs, offering generous return policies garners customer loyalty, and the potential for business from returning customers--and new customers driven by praise from those loyal customers--can return costs.

For some companies, the cost to process a return can end up being more than some of their products are worth. This has led to the growing adoption of return-less refund policies, whereby customers are refunded for an order without being required to return it. This is not for every seller; decisions should be assessed on the basis of product value and reasons for returns, but consumers are responsive to it. In that same study mentioned above, 40 percent of respondents who had experienced a return-less refund said it made them want to shop with a brand again.

Plastic Packaging

Consumers are increasingly conscious of who and what they're supporting. From public figures to politicians to products, savvy shoppers seek and stick with companies whose public-facing values reflect their own. They evaluate a brand not only by the breadth and quality of its offerings, but also by the causes it supports, whom it gives back to, and how it's making the world a better place. One thing consumers overwhelmingly do not believe is making the world a better place is plastic. And they're right.

A 2017 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances--the first global analysis of all plastics ever made--revealed that, of the 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic that have become plastic waste, only 9 percent has been recycled. The rest has been accumulating in places where it's certainly doing more harm than good, like our oceans. I do my part by collecting trash from the beach every Friday, but suffice to say that's not enough to save the planet on its own.

When online shoppers surveyed for Dotcom's e-commerce study were asked how various packaging components impacted their desire to shop with a brand, 42 percent credited sustainable packaging as the most compelling factor. With such a growing desire for action from consumers, there's no time like the present to consider how to do better. And with so many innovative, affordable, environmentally friendly packaging materials--from plastic poly bag alternatives to post-consumer recycled content (PCR) and much more--there is no shortage of sustainable packaging solutions.

Poor Omnichannel Inventory Management

With the abundance of sales channels and online marketplaces across the retail spectrum, an omnichannel strategy is all but required to thrive in commerce. Maintaining a robust presence on every channel where a company's target customers are active is no small feat, particularly when it comes to managing inventory in real time.

Every time a sale is made on one channel, that product's stock levels must be updated and reflected across all channels. Failing to do so can result in overselling, which leaves you little or no time to replenish stock, and can also negatively impact inventory storage fees. Worse, it risks sales and even relationships with customers dissatisfied by a clunky or disappointing experience.  

Omnichannel inventory management requires a ton of work that most smaller brands simply don't have the bandwidth or tools to take on with the rest of their responsibilities. As someone who has owned a company specializing in e-commerce fulfillment for more than 20 years, I believe the best solution is automated inventory management software, which updates stock levels automatically on all channels, and can be accessed or managed from one central dashboard. 

Old habits can be hard to break, but as retail, e-commerce, and consumers evolve, policies and practices must be modernized to stay competitive.