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While January may symbolize the end of the holiday season and a return to normalcy, it remains a particularly fraught time for eCommerce retailers. Studies show customer returns continue to climb yearly, adding up to almost $400 billion across all types of retail throughout the year. A large percentage of this happens right after the holidays.
For online retailers, dealing with these post-holiday returns can be overwhelming. Returns on holiday gifts and other purchases start making their climb about a week after Black Friday and Cyber Monday and eventually peak within the first week of January. In 2018, the United Parcel Service (UPS) reported an expected 1.4 million returns on January 5th alone, causing it to earn the nickname, “National Returns Day.”
As the growth of eCommerce continues, it’s critical that customer support teams are prepared to handle the challenge. It’s also important that online retailers understand how to leverage returns to build better customer experiences. Here are 7 strategies eCommerce businesses can use to handle post-holiday returns.
State your return policy upfront
Studies show that almost two-thirds of shoppers will check a retailer’s return policy before purchasing something from their website. That’s because shopping online, while convenient, comes with its own set of risks.
The good news is that those customers who check for the return policy before buying online are much more likely to complete their purchase if they agree with it.
Honesty and transparency are essential to building trust with your customers. This is especially true for online businesses. Stating your return policy upfront, before the sale takes place, is a good way of showing your customers that you value their purchase and your product. It also removes the confusion surrounding your return policy and decreases pressure on your support team during the post-holiday rush.
Have customer-friendly return policies
While being upfront with your return policy is great, it’s only the start. Many businesses trip themselves up by creating complex and difficult to understand policies. This is detrimental. Studies show that customers are much less likely to complete a purchase if they do not like or understand the return policy.
Since the last thing you want is to scare off your customers and drive them into the arms of your competitor, it’s a great idea to regularly review your policies. Make sure the writing is clear and helpful by avoiding industry jargon and complicated terms. The policy is there to help your customers, not complicate their purchase.
Example of Amazon’s simple return policy
Once you have reviewed and updated your policies, make sure it’s easily accessible to your customers. The most important areas you want your customer to see your policy is on your website, your FAQ, and during the return process.
Your website: While a customer is looking through your site to purchase an item, how hard is it for them to find your return policy? Make it easy by linking to it directly on the product page as well as when a customer is getting ready to check out.
Your FAQ: The FAQ page is one of the first places a customer will go to when they’re looking for help. When a customer visits this page, they might already be frustrated. The last thing you want is to have a vague or outdated policy greeting them.
While it can feel like a daunting task to go back and update all the FAQ’s, it will make a huge difference for both your support team as well as your customers by increasing the “self-serviceness” of your product
Your Packaging: How easy is it for a customer to return a package? For many, the process involves a lot of unnecessary friction. Rather than stopping the customer from sending items back, a complicated return process simply frustrates the customer and makes it less likely that they will purchase from your brand again.
Make the process pain-free by having a pre-printed return sticker already included in the package, along with directions on how to return the item. Create a user-friendly process, and your customers will thank you for it.
Set up quick & easy refunds
The art of the refund has undergone a lot of changes over the years. Brick-and-mortar retailers can have varying return policies that are based on the rules and regulations governing their location.
For an eCommerce store, that is not the case.
Because online retailers can operate and serve almost any geographic area, refund policies are much more flexible. Many retailers see this as a positive, using the opportunity to streamline refunds across the board.
eCommerce businesses have pivoted to quick and painless policies in order to stay competitive. It’s now commonplace to find retailers that process payment refunds within ten business days. Not only do customers love getting their money back quickly, but the great experience is sure to keep them coming back.
Lastly, when done with care and consideration, your process of refunding customers can be beneficial to your business. Many reports show that almost half of customers (45%) who go online to return an item, will end up making an additional purchase while they’re there.
Be flexible about refunds
While online customers expect great refund and return options, sometimes managing it all can be a hassle for business owners. Dealing with returns is not always easy; it is costly to keep inspecting, repackaging, and restocking returned items.
This is why many online retailers have turned to other available options, like rebranded currency. A business can give a customer the option of refunding the original payment while sweetening the deal with an offer of rebranded currency. This often looks like a refund through merchandise credit or store credit of higher value, if the customer is willing to forego getting the refund back to their original payment.
As it turns out, many customers are on board with this. Everyone from small retailers to giants like Amazon routinely offer discounts on refunds if the customer will opt for their money back in the form of store credit. This incentive to stay within ‘the family’ can help keep a lid on the costs associated with refunds while encouraging customers to continue purchasing with your brand.
Track returns on the way back
We all know that tracking online shipments is important. Customers worry about where their items are and when they’re going to get there. And yet, one major customer complaint continues to be package tracking – nobody wants their shipments to get lost.
Companies traditionally do a great job of tracking package delivery on the way to the customer. However, the reverse is not always the case. According to Channel Advisor, 97 percent of retailers offer to track a shipment for deliveries, yet only 7 percent will offer the same for returns.
Customers making online returns want the opportunity to check on their packages as they are shipping. Not having this option can quickly develop into a big pain point. But it doesn’t have to be.
Businesses can make it more accessible to track the returns. Simply add a pre-paid shipping label to the packing slip and send it alongside the original purchase. If the customer does decide to return their product they already have the return label easily accessible. If not, they simply discard it.
This method not only helps customers track their returns, but it also gives retailers control over which company they prefer to use for delivery–potentially cutting down on the cost of shipping fees.
Provide omnichannel post-holiday support
Regardless of how prepared your support team is for the holidays, they will not be of much help if customers are getting frustrated while trying to reach them.
While FAQ’s are a great way to answer a lot of customer questions, having support that spans all areas is a must. Phone, email, and chat are the top 3 ways that customers contact support. Make sure that your staff is prepared to continue handling these requests, even as the holidays begin to wind down.
Watch out for fraudulent post-holiday returns
Despite doing everything right, there will always be a handful of people who are keen to ruin things for everyone else.
It’s no secret that people have been attempting to take advantage of refund policies since they first became commonplace. One couple even managed to swindle $1.2 million from Amazon’s returns and exchanges policy.
Unfortunately, accounting for every situation and opportunistic thief is close to impossible. However, staying vigilant and training support reps to keep an eye out for situations that seem suspicious is a great place to start, and will help keep potential fraudsters in check.