How Can Retailers Better Manage 2020 Holiday Returns?

holiday returns

With the COVID-19 pandemic shifting an ever-larger share of holiday shopping into the online realm, retailers can expect the usual influx of holiday returns and exchanges to follow suit.

A study recently conducted by Oracle Retail indicated that fewer consumers are expecting to make at least one return or exchange this year (that is 38% versus last year’s 77%), retailers should expect to make some adjustments to their standard return policies in order to accommodate consumers who will be reluctant to head to the post office or brick and mortar stores to return unwanted merchandise.

Of course, in light of all of the strains put on the retail and shipping industries in 2020, this is nothing short of a daunting task to undertake. Nonetheless, it is going to be much needed.


Extended holiday returns window

One way retailers can help to prevent massive bottlenecks in managing and receiving returns is to extend the return window for post-holiday returns. While some retailers have already done so, with another round of potential lockdowns and surges in virus transmissions on the horizon, consumers are likely to need a more generous return window than usual, both to reduce risks and accommodate potential retail brick and mortar shutdowns or capacity limitations.

In some cases, retailers may need to make additional hires or train existing employees in processing returns as the volume increases, and doing so ahead of the surge will result in better returns management and customer relationships.


Focus on optimizing omnichannel preparation

Omnichannel retailers will need to prepare warehouse staff to handle and process a larger volume of individual packages this year than they may be accustomed to, so preparation in advance will continue to be key.

Pure e-commerce retailers will also likely see a significantly larger volume of returns than they typically handle. Anticipating this by increasing handling and processing capacities, whether by shifting existing workers or making additional hires prior to the volume spike will be vital for maintaining appropriate customer service expectations.

In addition to ramping up returns handling and processing abilities, attention should be paid to the handling of items that are eligible for re-stocking. Re-stocking of items as they go through the returns process can not only save the business money but also moves the product out of the rest of the usual returns process. 

Having a system for analysis of incoming returns, determining whether their condition is acceptable for re-sale, and getting those items processed and ready to be sold will reduce costs and waste significantly.

Preparing for an increased volume of physical returns is important, but retailers can also smooth the returns process by automating the process as much as possible...


Leverage automation

Using AI, chatbots, or other automated communication, automating holiday returns saves both time and manpower.

From acknowledging the return request to keeping them updated on the status of their return as it moves through the process, making the process automated decreases processing time while also still allowing for full visibility over the process in the event that manual intervention is needed.

Automating holiday returns can take many forms and is dependent upon the business implementing this strategy and its needs.


Offer a few holiday returns options

The last but probably best tip of all is a simple one... allow the consumer to have return options.

Allowing consumers to decide what they want to do with the item they wish to return- whether they prefer an exchange, store credit, or complete refund- allows retailers to capture more business while simultaneously catering to consumer preferences. Providing return options is a simple way to persuade consumers to continue shopping with a particular retailer, and improves consumer retention overall as it builds trust and fosters a sense of security.

Furthermore, by allowing customers to return products in a few different ways, it takes some of the strain off of the usual returns department as returns can be divided and delegated more optimally.


Want to avoid the headaches that are sure to ensue from strained 2020 holiday returns? Contact us today to see how we can help.