Sales traditionally soar for retailers during the holiday season, and this means an inevitable, associated leap in returns.
Customers decide they don’t like items, receivers of gifts seek exchanges, those with a receipt may want a refund. In-store this can mean lines of people waiting to organise their exchange or refund, while online shoppers have enquiries about shipping items back.
Preparing for the holiday returns season is as vital as getting stocked up and ready for the explosive sales period.
The holiday sales surge tends to begin with Black Friday and returns may start to come in before Christmas. Last year, with increasing online returns associated with elevated e-shopping driven by COVID-19, retailers braced for returns of 13.3%.
You and your team can be well equipped to deal with everything returns related with a little planning and preparation.
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Create and share your returns policy
If you don’t yet have a clear and concise returns policy, now is the time to create one. While there are some province or territory level laws that control specific rights over refund policy, stores have a certain amount of flexibility.
Do you need customers to provide a receipt to get a refund? Are there certain items that cannot be returned (swimwear or lingerie perhaps)? Do you have an exchange-only policy? Are sale items included in your usual refund policy? Whatever your specific rules are, you should display them somewhere prominently in-store, as well as on your website. Perhaps print them on your receipts or invoices.
Maybe you also want to introduce gift receipts with special return policy arrangements – perhaps with an extended period to get a refund or exchange. Train your team to ensure that when they get a return request, they know exactly how to deal with it.
Then take steps to ensure you’re able to stick by the policy. Say, for example, your return policy allows full refunds within 30 days or in-store credits from 31 to 60 days past the date of purchase. Make sure you have enough gift cards to present to shoppers that don’t make a purchase the same day.
Whatever your return policy – try to minimise exchanges and refunds
A fundamental element of your return policy should be to take every measure possible to try to limit handling exchanges and refunds. It’s good customer service to make it possible for people to get a refund or exchange if required, but if you can help them to avoid this it’s better for you and them.
Ensure items on your website are well described so people can make better judgements before purchase, List specifics of your sizing if you sell clothing, detail dimensions of furniture, ensure the specifications of electricals are provided.
In store and online, give customers the option of buying a gift card for your store that they can pass on to allow someone to come in and select their own item. You may make it part of your return policy that a gift card or credit note will be offered instead of a refund too. This requires consideration of what will serve you as a business best – remembering that ensuring customers are happy is the best way to keep them loyal. That may mean that on occasion a refund or exchange is necessary to keep people sweet.
Top customer service and support will help your sales stick. Of course, you’ll never be able to prevent all returns requests but taking steps to minimise them helps.
Keep track of your inventory
As products sell and are removed from inventory – or become returns and need to be added back to inventory – it’s important that you have a handle on inventory management.
This greatly simplifies the return and exchange process. You can track inventory on hand, as well as measure the percentage that’s being returned. Quantifying your total return rate and the types of products that get returned most often is helpful when performing end-of-year settlements and preparing for your business income tax return. Making all of this part of your dashboard of figures helps you to run, manage and grow your business.
Give your team the tools they need
Not only does your team need certain tools to handle the potential influx of customer returns, but for your own peace of mind – and future sales – you should ensure that your team is large and well equipped enough to handle the upcoming returns season.
You may need to retain additional staff throughout January at least. Make sure your point of sale is up to the job of processing returns and payments. If there are any aspects of your business that team members might need to brush up on, go over those now. All teammates should know your returns policy and should be keen on suggestions for customer assistance.
Have a waste management plan
Retailers have made a massive effort to adjust to more people shopping online due to COVID-19. That creates its own issues for returns. Shipping goods out is one issue and dealing with remote refund, exchange and returns requests is another. You have to consider whether shipping costs will be covered by you or the customer as part of your exchange policy and there are issues around logistics such as return labels to consider.
An online-sales returns splurge brings the lesser-realized aspect of waste management. Customers may use their own bags or boxes to return items – or may mail them back to you – and that can pile up quickly.
Have a schedule of teammates responsible for waste removal for every shift. This helps keep your physical storefront pleasant for shoppers. Getting on top of the logistics of online returns is worth the effort. The rise in online shopping is one pandemic habit that is expected to stick.
Holiday Returns Season Recap
Planning helps keep the team on track. It eases some of the usual jitters associated with busy times and keeps customers coming back for the enjoyable experience of shopping with you – no matter what time of year.