Once the holidays are over, you can breathe a long sigh of relief. Things can finally settle down and go back to normal, right?
Well… not exactly. With projected record-setting holiday sales come record-breaking returns in January and February. This past year, UPS alone expected to process 6 million returns in the week after Christmas.
After the holidays end, your top priority needs to be satisfying the customers who have ill-fitting, unsuitable, or defective merchandise that they’d like to send back to you. An estimated 25 to 30 percent of online purchases are sent back! This means you have to have a plan to handle post-holiday returns — and handle them so well that these gift recipients turn into bonafide customers.
Let’s take a look at how you can handle these returns and exchanges smoothly. We’ll start with what you can do now, before the season starts, to get your website ready. Then we’ll look at how to properly handle returns and unhappy giftees.
Ready? Let’s get a move on.
6 Ways to Prepare for Post-Holiday Returns
1. First Things First: Get Your Store In Order
Before the holiday season ends — rather, before the holiday season even begins — take a good, hard look at how you present the topic of returns on your online store.
You should, at the very least, have a page dedicated to your return policy, detailing critical information about what can and can’t be returned, when, and how. (More on that below.) If you require RMAs to be issued, try to create and link to a form solely for this purpose.
Some stores also take this a step further and add information on returns right on individual product pages. This can be done permanently or added in as a temporary piece during the holiday season. This is especially helpful if some of your products have different return policies — for example if you sell personalized items or dropship from different manufacturers.
Finally, have a look at your customer service and FAQ pages, footer, and sitemap. Make sure links to your return policy or any online return forms are easily accessible. This will help customers quickly get what they need if they want to return an item.
2. Establish a Good Return Policy (if You Haven’t Already)
You might already have a return policy in place. But to make your customers happy after the holidays, it needs to be a great return policy.
A killer return policy should include the following:
- Free return shipping — Avoid, wherever possible, charging customers who want to return an item that doesn’t fit or suit them. If you’re using something like ShipStation, you can include a pre-printed label right in the box for effortless returns.
- Refund information — How will customers be credited for their returns? Explain when full credit will be issued, and in what method, or if a restocking fee will ever be deducted. It’s usually best to avoid deducting from the refund unless the item is unable to be sold again.
- The physical return process — Clearly explain how customers can get merchandise back to you. Do they need an RMA first? If so, how do they get it? Try to keep the process as simple and as automated as possible.
- Clear expectations — State when refunds will be issued after returns are received, and how customers will be notified about the status of their return or refund.
- Contact information — If a question comes up, customers should absolutely have a way to get in touch with someone — quickly.
If you ship within or to the EU, there are important returns regulations that apply to you. As we covered before, international shipping and returns can be expensive. Depending on the value, you may want to offer a full refund or a replacement without requiring the item to be returned.
One note on post-holiday policies specifically: if your return policy allows customers to return unopened merchandise for a period of 30 days, consider extending it to 60 or even 90 days.
It can sometimes take gift recipients a while to open their holiday goodies, and extending that time period gives them flexibility — and keeps them from getting mad when they can’t return a broken or damaged item.
An extended return period also allows you to accommodate those international shipments (which could take several weeks on their own), or non-traditional holidays that fall after the end of December. Trust us on this one — the hassle, if there is any, is worth it. Your customers will be extremely grateful.
3. Train Your Customer Service Team
Training is a crucial part of appropriately handling the post-holiday rush. If your team doesn’t know what to do, your customers will pick up on it — and likely won’t shop with you again.
Whether your team is made up of one customer service rep or a hundred, set aside some time to chat about what to expect as far as returns and exchanges are involved. Try to discuss specific action items like:
- Return period length — How long will customers have to return an item? Are you extending the return period for purchases between specific dates?
- Exchanges — Are you offering exchanges for any or all purchases and/or gifts?
- Receipts — Do returns have to come with a receipt or proof of purchase (for example, a picture of a packing slip, forwarded email receipt, or another receipt of some kind)?
- Damaged goods — If a customer reports a damaged product, will they be asked to ship it back or provide any proof of damage? How will a replacement be provided?
Keep in mind that new questions will likely come up as time goes on, so be present and prepared to answer them.
4. Prioritize Return Requests
When the holidays are over and your team is back at work again, returns should be one of your top priorities, if not your number one priority.
Your customer service team should set aside time each and every day to review incoming return requests or RMAs, answer questions on returns or exchanges, and process returned merchandise. Additionally, physical returns should be unpacked and reviewed at least once per day, and refunds issued quickly.
Try to stay in constant communication with anyone who has submitted a return to your store. It isn’t a bad idea to set up an email template for “return received” or “refund issued” that can be sent off automatically.
5. Find Ways to Support Unhappy Gift Recipients
It’s not uncommon for store owners to receive emails from gift recipients who received one of your products and don’t want it, don’t need it, or can’t use it in its current state. But these recipients aren’t likely to have a receipt or any proof of purchase, which can make returns challenging.
If you can’t verify the purchase or issue a refund to the original buyer, offer store credit in exchange for the return. This will allow your customer to pick out something more to their liking while preventing any kind of fraudulent or suspicious activity.
If the customer likes the item they received but simply needs a different size, color, or something along those lines, send them a shipping label and the replacement. It’s your call what order you do this in — if you trust them, you can send the replacement and label in the same box, or wait until you receive the return to send out the replacement.
Finally, if the giftee is upset because they got a broken or defective gift, you can either offer a replacement, offer store credit, or give them both. A little extra goes a long way, after all. If you ship a replacement, don’t make them send back the broken item — it’s a hassle, and you can’t resell it.
6. Plan Ahead to Handle Any Returned Merchandise
Finally, let’s tackle the topic of returned goods. What should you do when you get these items back?
Plan to have at least one member of your team trained to perform visual inspections of returned orders. This employee should know what new products look like — sealed packages, attached tags, labels, etc. — and how to re-seal or restock shelves, if applicable.
When you receive a return from a customer, your employee should evaluate each enclosed product individually and note its condition. If it’s still new, or able to be resold, simply add it back to your inventory, credit the customer, and move on.
If the product is not in good enough condition to be resold, your return policy should dictate how you handle this. You can credit the customer and create a “used” section on your site for like new goods, or eat the cost… or you can not re-inventory the item and issue little to no credit. The choice is yours.
Finally, if the product is damaged — and it’s not the customer’s fault — throw it away and refund the giftee or ship a replacement. If the product appears to have been damaged in the mail, you can always file a claim with your shipping company. Just leave the customer out of it — they don’t need to know.
Get More Advice on Post-holiday Returns From ShipStation
Although both the holiday and post-holiday periods have the potential to be stressful, with some planning, they can be far less painful than you might expect.
In fact, you may even be able to boost your sales by providing a great returns experience. We talked to a few ShipStation businesses how they optimized their returns game before the holidays, including the no-hassle, self-service Branded Returns Portal.
Use these tips in combination with this post to get prepared — and to breathe easier once the holidays are over.
We hope you enjoyed reading these suggestions to make the post-holiday return period easier on your store. Best of luck with your holiday season!
This holiday post is brought to you by ShipStation. ShipStation will help you get your holiday shipments — and returns — in order so you can breathe easier.