Target is again changing the Target run. Shoppers soon may not have to go into a store to return purchases.

Target Corp. announced Wednesday morning that it will pilot a drive-up return process at stores in the Twin Cities and other select markets this fall. It will also test the ordering and pick-up of Starbucks drinks by drive-up customers.

Target is one of several retailers to revamp how it handles returns, long a headache for consumers and a costly process for stores.

Chris Walton, a former Target executive who co-runs retail blog and podcast Omni Talk, called Target's test "game changing."

"It means Target shoppers can now virtually get or do everything they would normally do in a Target store without ever having to enter a Target store," Walton said. "That is the definition of being a great omnichannel retailer. Customers are never required to enter the store. It is always their 'option.'"

As part of the pilot, customers wanting to make returns will be able to start the process via the Target mobile app and complete it once they arrive in Target parking lots as either part of normal orders or just to do a return. Refunds would be processed electronically.

For coffee orders, when customers indicate they are "on their way" to the store to grab a pick-up order, they will be given the option to place an order from the Starbucks menu. Orders will be delivered to their cars.

Target also announced customers using the drive up order service will be able to select second-choice items from a wider assortment of categories, including beauty, in case first-choice items aren't available.

Target drive-up and order pick-up will remain free services.

Target began to offer order pick-up in 2013, and then added the drive-up service, with orders brought out to them, in 2018. Target added fresh groceries to pick-up services nationwide in 2020 after an initial test in the Twin Cities. Alcoholic beverages were added for pick-up in stores across the country last year.

The company told investors in November that drive-up sales grew more than 80% in the August-October period, building on a sixfold jump that occurred a year earlier when the pandemic changed shopping habits.

Retailers are becoming more innovative as they handle the expensive processing of returns with more companies offering third-party drop-off spots for returns with some like going as far as to allow returns at some off-site locations with no box or label.

According to its website, Nordstrom offers curbside drop off for returns of some of its items at its stores. During the pandemic, Walmart introduced a service to pick up items that customers don't want from their homes.

Returns have continued to increase as retail sales have ballooned. Retailers expect more than $761 billion in merchandise sold last year to be returned, or 16.6% of total U.S. retail sales, according to a report released last month by the National Retail Federation and Appriss Retail. That's up from a 10.6% return rate reported for 2020.

No longer requiring masks

Target no longer requires employees and customers to wear face masks inside its stores, citing declining COVID-19 infection cases across the country.

Before this week, Target required masks for employees and recommended them for customers in areas with high infection rates. Target on Monday updated its policy to longer require anyone in its stores to wear masks unless mandated by local rules.

Target first imposed a mask requirement on customers in August 2020. It relaxed the policy for a time last year, but reinstated it as cases rose in the delta and omicron surges.