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Optimizing post-holiday ecommerce returns

Nov 30, 2023 - Rich Reba
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For retailers, the holiday rush is intoxicating. Handling a large influx of orders may be overwhelming, but it’s also a thrill to watch your products reach the hands of countless new customers. While it’s important to celebrate the successes of the holiday season, it’s also critical to plan for what inevitably comes next: a rush of holiday gift returns once January hits. 

No matter how exceptional and high-quality your products are, there will always be gift-givers who miss the mark or recipients who simply do not need or connect with the chosen product. Seeking to prevent holiday ecommerce returns is generally a fruitless effort. However, through careful planning that prioritizes a pleasant customer experience, retailers can optimize the influx of holiday gift returns to leave a positive first impression on countless new and future customers. 

Seamless return processes for gift recipients

Many individuals working to return gifts will be engaging with your brand for the very first time. Optimize this less-than-ideal situation by implementing customer experience solutions that make the process of ecommerce returns easy for the customer. The effort to create a seamless return experience begins at the time of order, so planning is critical. Consider taking the following steps to facilitate a smooth experience for holiday gift returns.

1. Provide clear and easily referenced guidelines on finding order information. There are few things more frustrating about the usual return process than the time-consuming search for order confirmation numbers and other required information. When the only way to locate these details is to find an original receipt, customers and gift recipients will likely end up feeling disheartened in their attempt to return gifts. After all, most people make dozens of purchases during the holiday season and may not have a system for keeping track of receipts. Providing easy-to-reference guidelines for finding this information can help streamline the process and leave a positive impression.

2. Create a process for returning without a receipt. Even with solid guidelines in place for locating order information, many customers may be unable to locate their original receipt. When this circumstance makes it impossible to process a return, many customers leave with a negative outlook on the retailer, even feeling cheated in some situations.

Overly complex ecommerce returns management can give the impression that instead of taking pride in what you sell and having faith in your products, you’re trying to make sure people are “stuck” with them with no easy avenue for returns. Create a process for easily returning without a receipt. This way, gift givers who have lost track of receipts or recipients who aren’t comfortable with reaching out to the gift giver for order information can still receive credit or money back for the product – and hopefully become lifelong customers.

3. Include gift-specific return labels. A key reason why many gifts are exchanged without a receipt or return label is because in some cases, gift givers order for various recipients at once. Then, they receive the order with many products but only one receipt and return label, so they hold onto them instead of including them with the gift in case returns are needed. This puts recipients in an awkward situation of having to discuss the return with the gift giver, which most people are hesitant to do. To bypass this hiccup, retailers can include gift-specific labels for each item that leaves information like price unlisted but still make it easy to initiate a return if necessary.

While returns are less than ideal, a customer experience that exceeds expectations can leave a lasting impression. Paving the way for a hassle-free experience makes you more likely to retain the business of the gift-giver and to earn future business from the recipient.  

Gift return policies and communication

Clarify and communicate your gift return policies as early in the holiday season as possible. Being left to guess and wonder whether they’ll be able to return an item can deter customers from purchasing from your store in the first place, while an easy-to-find gift return policy can provide the added peace of mind needed for them to make a purchase. Consider the following ideas as you formulate your holiday gift return policy:

Extended return windows: Normal 30-day return timelines are often too tight when holiday shopping can begin a full month before gifts are exchanged.

Website popups and follow-up emails communicating return policy and how-tos: Clear information helps put customers at ease.

Gift receipt options in the checkout phase: Make ecommerce returns easier for customers and your team by distributing gift receipts with order numbers.

Special gift packaging options on the shipping and checkout page: Gift packaging allows your customers to send your products directly to the gift recipient, saving them time and shipping costs.

Extended customer service availability following gift-giving holidays: Customer service teams can expect an influx of support requests as customers work to return gifts.

Additionally, company-wide communication and special meetings to communicate with customer service teams may be necessary to ensure that all representatives thoroughly understand return policies. This way, you can rest assured that any recipient or customer who reaches out for help on returns will receive the same streamlined, transparent experience and leave with a positive view of your brand.

Enhancing customer experience and retention

To fully optimize the inevitable rush of post-holiday returns, take steps to enhance the customer experience and pave the way for long-term retention. For example, providing personalized recommendations based on return feedback might convert someone returning a gift into a brand-new customer. Initiating loyalty programs and making them easy to sign up for might sway gift recipients into an exchange rather than a return or keep gift-givers coming back for their next purchase. Exclusive promotions can retain both recipients and gift givers.

Finally, take the time to thoroughly organize and analyze all return data from the holiday season. This data can help marketing teams improve product recommendations as well as inform inventory management practices for future holiday seasons.

Processing holiday returns can be a difficult comedown after the glamor and high sales numbers of November and December, but there’s a silver lining to be found. Viewing the engagement of customers and recipients who are returning gifts as brand-new touchpoints for your retail business can flip the script and help you optimize.

Instead of lamenting the influx of returns, remember that many gift-givers have exposed a new person to your ecommerce brand, opening the door for you to impress them with easy processes and meaningful follow-up. Make the best of it and see what customer experience solutions for optimized returns can do for your business.