Online Retail Today

Making the Most of Holiday Return Season

retailers digital transformation
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Merchants may dread the surge of returns that inevitably follows the holiday season – but with a combination of transparency and omnichannel savvy, they can transform the process into an opportunity to earn loyalty.

The rise of online shopping has brought with it an increase in returns. Some 10% of all retail purchases are returned – and during the holidays, that percentage is higher, with some 28% of 2017 holiday gifts returned or exchanged, according to data from Red Stag and Optoro. Online, the percentage is higher still, with 44% of U.S. online consumers having returned a purchase in the past year, according to the 2018 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper survey.

As we wade through returns season, merchants can convert these potential losses into new opportunities. Just as cart abandonment is now viewed as part of the research and consideration phase of the purchase cycle, so too can holiday returns become a means to winning new and repeat business. An overwhelming 95% of customers overall say they’ll buy again from a retailer offering a positive returns experience – including 54% of new customers, Navar found.

To do so, sellers should focus on streamlining the process as much as possible across touchpoints, with clear messaging throughout. Among the tactics to consider:

Turn off the meter.  

Many online buyers freely admit to buying multiple sizes or styles and keeping only those items that work. More than 40% of U.S. retailers say they’ve seen an increase in these “intentional returns” in the past year, according to Brightpearl. In response to this trend, in May Amazon announced it would shut down accounts of buyers who return items too frequently, and some 60% of merchants in Brightpearl’s survey said they were considering following suit.

But during the holidays, merchants should ease up on enforcement of such policies. Blameless gift recipients should be able to return or exchange unwanted presents without worrying about how the transaction will impact their standing with the retailer.

Communicate policies clearly.

Merchants should message returns timeframes, costs, and restrictions at multiple points on the path to purchase, and restate them clearly in post-purchase transactional messaging, as well as on gift receipts and package inserts. Given that nearly half of shoppers check return policies prior to buying, according to data from Narvar, it’s especially crucial for sellers to spotlight the information early and often.

Ramp up stores for BORIS, not just BOPIS.

Omnichannel merchants have a distinct advantage when it comes to returns, given that 58% of shoppers prefer to handle the process in a store, according to the UPS survey. Buy Online, Return in Store (BORIS) transactions should be as seamless as in-store order pickup, with store directional signage designating where to go for returns, and staff well-versed in holiday policies. The value of a good BORIS program should not be overlooked, as shoppers who enter a store with the intention to return an item very often leave having made a new purchase.

Re-circulate merchandise via store-to-store fulfillment.

More than half of returned merchandise goes back on store shelves, according to a Supply Chain Management Review survey; merchants with a distributed order management platform can boost efficiency by routing items to the outlets where they’re most likely to sell.

How are you handling holiday returns?

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