By Annie Pilon
After the holiday shopping season comes the season of holiday returns. So if your small business sold a lot of gift items over the past couple of months, you’re likely about to be inundated with customers looking to return or exchange at least some of those items.
Whether you run a local retail store or an ecommerce business, it’s important that you’re prepared to handle those returns in a way that’s satisfactory for both your customers and your business. Here are 15 tips for handling holiday returns.
Tips for Handling Holiday ReturnsHave a Clear Policy in PlaceThe first step in properly handling holiday returns is to set up a returns policy that is fair and clear to customers. Your policy should outline exactly what items are returnable or exchangeable, what condition they need to be in and how and when customers can go about making those returns or exchanges.
Consider a Special Holiday PolicyEven though you probably should have some kind of cut-off for what items you’ll accept and when, the holidays offer unique situations for a lot of consumers. For example, you might normally require returns to be made within 30 days. But in some instances, early shoppers won’t even give their gifts within that time period. So the recipient in that situation would have no option to return the item even if they try to do so right away. For that reason, you might want to offer a bit of flexibility for holiday returns. But be sure to make the policy clear. For example, you might just accept returns for the month of January or for 90 days after the original purchase.
Be Aware of Industry StandardsYou can also take a look at how others in your industry handle returns. You never want to copy someone else’s returns policy exactly. But you can simply look at what other stores offer and make sure that yours is at least comparable so that customers won’t think your policy is especially unfair.
Prominently Place Your PolicyOnce you have a policy in place, you also need to make sure it’s really easy for your customers to find. Having a page of your website that isn’t even included on your main navigation bar doesn’t count. You can have a returns policy listed on your homepage or product pages during the holidays, or even have it pop up during the checkout process. And if you have a local retail store, you could include it on receipts or signage.
Make It Easy for CustomersYou also want to make sure that the process you outline is easy for customers. For example, don’t require them to pack up a box and then write out an address and buy postage. Give them a printable packing slip and clear instructions for how to send the item back.
Clearly Outline ExpectationsYou should also make sure they understand what to expect from you. If you plan to refund purchases after you receive them from consumers, tell them that. If that refund isn’t likely to show up until a week after you’ve received the item, tell them that. You don’t want to leave your customers guessing or wondering if you’ve failed to hold up your end of the bargain.
Properly Train EmployeesYou also need to be sure that your team is up to the task of handling all of those returns. If you have a retail store, that means you need to be sure they understand exactly what to look for, how to accept the return and how to interact with customers to keep the line moving but still make sure they’re satisfied with the experience. And even if you have an ecommerce store, you need to be sure your team is ready to answer questions and process the items you receive from customers.
Have Extra Help on HandIt might also be necessary for you to hire some temporary help so that you can handle all the extra work without overworking your team or negatively impacting the customer experience.
Promote Exchanges Over ReturnsWhen your team is answering questions or accepting returns from customers, you should also make sure they’re prepared to promote exchanges over cash returns. Even if you do accept cash returns, exchanges or store credit can help your business keep more of its holiday profits. So you could consider offering a better deal for those who are just making exchanges or getting store credit.
Convert Returns Into SalesYou can also offer special deals to those making returns so that you can make even more sales once the holiday season has concluded. Or you can even lay out your store so that those making returns are likely to come across some potential impulse purchases.
Organize Your LinesIf you accept returns in your store, managing your lines should be a top priority. Have a set queue for returns so that you don’t make people stopping in to make quick purchases wait with all of the people making complicated returns.
Inspect Returned ItemsOnce you’ve accepted items for return, you need to quickly inspect them to see if they’re of a high enough quality to restock. If items were damaged during shipping or handling, you need to also have a process for dealing with those items.
Sort Items QuicklyYou can have a few different outcomes for returned items. Those that are of a high enough quality can be restocked. Some that might have small issues could be put on clearance. And others might need to be disposed of. But regardless of the outcomes, you need to sort through those items quickly so that you can update your inventory and potentially recover some of the cost of the returns.
Collect Return DataYou should also keep comprehensive data about all of your returns. Especially if you don’t require customers to bring in receipts or proof of purchase, analyzing data can help you reduce fraud. And it can also help you understand why customers make returns so that you can potentially limit them in the future.
Update Your Policy if NecessaryEach year as you deal with holiday returns, you’re likely to learn a bit more about the process. If you have issues in a particular area one year, that could mean that you need to work on that area for the next year. So while you should keep your policy fairly consistent, you might learn of some areas where it needs to be updated on an annual basis. And if those changes can make the process smoother for both your business and your customers, you should absolutely make them.
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