How to Prepare for Holiday Returns (Before You Get Bombarded with Them)

For many, the holiday season may still seem far away. But in the world of retail, the craziness that comes along with the most wonderful time of the year is already in full swing. From specialized marketing campaigns to seasonal specials, there are a lot of factors to consider, and once the big consumer boom hits, everything needs to be in place and ready to go—or else.

With all of the focus on inventory management, pricing, and getting consumers to buy from you during this critical season, one area of opportunity that many retailers don’t take advantage of is the post-purchase aspect of the holiday shopping experience. Delivering a killer post-purchase is arguably how you will retain many of the hard-won new customers you gain during the season from all your other efforts. 82% of consumers ship gifts directly to recipients during the holidays, meaning it’s important that you make the act of giving simple for everyone involved. From tracking packages sent across the country, to the onslaught of returns and exchanges that come with those gifts, there are plenty of areas where a customer’s experience can fall between the cracks, leaving them with a bad taste in their mouth and leaving you with less loyal customers.

Luckily, there are steps that retailers can take to ensure they don’t sacrifice their customers’ experiences during this hectic time. Especially when it comes to returns, which can have a huge impact on how a consumer views your brand, it’s important to tick off all the right boxes before it’s too late.

Below, we highlight the steps that every retailer can take to prepare for the Holiday returns rush long before it begins:

Be upfront about your Holiday returns policy.

Many retailers choose to extend their usual return window around the holidays to account for the prolonged amount of time between purchase and gifting. If this is your policy, be sure to state so clearly in an easy-to-find place on your site. Not only will this inspire more confidence in a potential purchase, as almost half of consumers will check out the returns policy before making a purchase, it will also help gift recipients find the information they need if they want to return or exchange something. You’ll also want to mention your method(s) of refund—whether via gift card, store credit, or original form of payment—along with how long it usually takes to process refunds, whether customers can return to a store, and if you charge restocking or return shipping fees. Remember: sharing is caring!

Cut costs with self-service initiation.

Coming in at about $0.25 – $0.40 a pop, pre-printed return labels can become a pretty big expense for retailers if left unchecked. And when it comes to holiday gift giving, the risk of customers losing their labels—and then needing new ones—only goes up. To cut the otherwise-escalating costs of customers calling your customer care team to ask for new labels, you can implement a self-service initiation process online and allow people to print their own labels at home. This will cut down on your printing costs, and it’ll also decrease the amount of calls coming into your customer care team so that they can focus on more pressing issues.

Offer visibility into the returns journey.

When someone receives a gift they don’t like all that much, you don’t want to cause extra hassle by leaving them confused with unanswered questions such as, “How long until you receive my return?” or “When will I have credit to buy something I actually want?” By offering an option for these folks to track items on their journeys back to you, you’ll win them over by giving them the answers before they ever have to ask the questions in the first place. By delivering an easy, seamless returns experience, you’ll gain new fans and be more likely to see them come back to you in the future.

Prep your distribution centers before the returns arrive.

If you can gain more visibility into what’s coming back from where, you can better prepare your distribution centers for the onslaught of package arrivals. Being more proactive will allow you to plan your operations efforts in the most efficient way possible. Requiring giftees to initiate their returns online before sending a package means you can see what is being returned, why it wasn’t a good fit, and where it’s coming from. In the end, gaining these timely insights into your returns will let you re-distribute your merchandise more effectively.

Learn from your returns and make improvements for next year.

Keep an eye on the Holiday return trends affecting your business so that you can make the necessary adjustments to improve operations before next year’s rush. Track and measure the specific metrics and consumer feedback most crucial for your organization (number of size-related returns or call center volume, for instance), identify areas in customer experience or logistics that could use improvement, and make the appropriate changes so that you’re better equipped with plenty of non-crazy time to spare.

The holidays should be a time for joy and celebration—not panic and tearing your hair out. By taking these necessary steps to prepare your business now, you’ll help future you stay sane in the face of the unavoidable Holiday returns rush.