Handling Holiday Returns: 25 Top Tips

15 Tips for Handling Holiday Returns

After the holiday shopping season comes the season of handling 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 25 tips for handling holiday returns.

Tips for Handling Holiday Returns

1. Have a Clear Policy in Place

The 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.

Handling Holiday Returns

2. Consider a Special Holiday Policy

Even 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.

3. Be Aware of Industry Standards

You 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.

4. Prominently Place Your Policy

Once 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.

Handling Holiday Returns

5. Make It Easy for Customers

You 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.

6. Clearly Outline Expectations

You 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.

7. Properly Train Employees

You also need to be sure that your team is up to the task of handling holiday 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.

Handling Holiday Returns

8. Have Extra Help on Hand for Handling Holiday Returns

It 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.

9. Promote Exchanges Over Returns

When 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.

10. Convert Returns Into Sales

You 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.

11. Organize Your Lines

If 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.

Handling Holiday Returns

12. Inspect Returned Items

Once 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.

13. Sort Items Quickly

You 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.

14. Collect Return Data

You 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.

15. Update Your Policy if Necessary

Each 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.

16. Offer Online Return Options

For businesses with both physical and online presences, offering online return options can significantly ease the process. Customers appreciate the convenience of initiating returns via your website, which can also reduce in-store traffic during the busy holiday season.

17. Utilize Return Management Software

Invest in return management software to automate and track the return process. This technology helps in organizing returns, issuing refunds or credits, and keeping an inventory of returned items. It simplifies the process for both your team and the customers.

18. Set a Restocking Fee

Consider implementing a restocking fee for certain items or under specific conditions. While this needs to be communicated clearly in your return policy, a restocking fee can deter frivolous returns and help cover the costs associated with handling returns.

19. Encourage Feedback on Returns

Understanding why customers return items can be invaluable. Encourage feedback during the return process, either through in-store interactions or online return forms. This insight can help improve your products and reduce future returns.

20. Highlight Return Policy in Marketing Materials

Ensure your return policy is not only clear on your website but also highlighted in your marketing materials. This can include email newsletters, social media posts, and in-store signage, helping to set clear expectations for customers.

21. Offer Extended Return Windows

During holidays, consider extending your return window to accommodate early shoppers. This gesture can enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty, as it acknowledges the unique shopping patterns during the festive season.

22. Streamline In-Store Return Process

For physical stores, streamline the return process by having dedicated counters for returns or by employing mobile point-of-sale systems to handle returns anywhere in the store. This can reduce wait times and improve the customer experience.

23. Provide Prepaid Return Labels

Offering prepaid return labels, especially for online businesses, can make the return process more customer-friendly. This approach can enhance the customer experience and increase the likelihood of future purchases.

24. Monitor Return Trends

Keep an eye on trends in your return data. Frequent returns of a particular item or category might indicate an issue with the product that needs to be addressed, allowing you to take proactive measures.

25. Train Staff on Empathy and Efficiency

Ensure your staff is trained not only on the technical aspects of processing returns but also on handling these interactions with empathy and efficiency. A positive return experience can turn a potentially dissatisfied customer into a loyal one.

By implementing these tips, businesses can handle holiday returns more effectively, maintaining a balance between customer satisfaction and operational efficiency.

Proper management of returns during the holiday season can lead to improved customer relationships and reduced strain on your business resources.

Minimizing Returns Through Effective Communication

While handling holiday returns is a crucial aspect of maintaining customer satisfaction, minimizing the need for returns altogether can significantly benefit your business. Effective communication strategies can play a key role in achieving this goal.

By proactively addressing potential pain points and uncertainties, you can provide customers with the information they need to make informed purchases, ultimately reducing the likelihood of returns.

Educate Customers About Products

One way to prevent returns is to ensure that customers have accurate and comprehensive information about the products you offer.

This can include detailed product descriptions, specifications, images from different angles, and even videos demonstrating product features. The more customers know about what they’re purchasing, the less likely they are to be disappointed upon receiving the item.

Offer Virtual Shopping Assistance

Implementing live chat or virtual shopping assistance on your e-commerce platform can provide customers with real-time support while they’re browsing. Trained staff can answer questions, provide sizing advice, and help customers choose products that align with their needs.

This personalized guidance can lead to more satisfying purchases and fewer instances of ordering items that don’t meet expectations.

Provide Size and Fit Guidelines

Returns due to sizing issues are common, especially for clothing and footwear. To address this, offer detailed size charts and fit guidelines on your website. Include instructions on how to measure accurately and provide guidance on choosing the right size based on body measurements.

This can empower customers to make size-appropriate selections, reducing the need for returns.

Encourage User-Generated Content

Incorporate user-generated content into your product pages. Customer reviews, photos, and testimonials can offer valuable insights into how the product looks, fits, and performs in real life.

Potential buyers can relate to experiences shared by others, helping them make more informed decisions and decreasing the chance of post-purchase dissatisfaction.

Highlight Product Variations

For items with multiple options, such as colors or styles, clearly showcase the available variations. Use high-quality images to accurately represent each option. Providing a clear visual representation of the choices helps customers choose the right product, reducing the likelihood of disappointment upon delivery.

Implement Virtual Try-On Tools

For products like eyewear, cosmetics, or accessories, consider integrating virtual try-on tools. These tools use augmented reality to allow customers to visualize how a product will look on them before making a purchase.

This technology can enhance the online shopping experience and minimize returns caused by mismatched expectations.

Utilize Customer Feedback

Regularly review customer feedback and return reasons. Identify recurring patterns or issues that lead to returns. Use this information to fine-tune your product descriptions, images, and policies. Adapting based on customer insights can help you address pain points and improve the overall shopping experience.

Educate Customers About ProductsProvide detailed information about products, including descriptions, specifications, images, and videos, to help customers make informed purchases and reduce post-delivery disappointments.
Offer Virtual Shopping AssistanceImplement live chat or virtual assistance on your e-commerce platform to offer real-time support, answer questions, and provide personalized guidance, leading to more satisfying purchases.
Provide Size and Fit GuidelinesAddress sizing issues by offering detailed size charts, fit guidelines, and instructions on accurate measurements, empowering customers to make size-appropriate selections and minimize returns.
Encourage User-Generated ContentIncorporate customer reviews, photos, and testimonials into product pages to provide valuable insights and relatable experiences, aiding customers in making informed decisions.
Highlight Product VariationsClearly showcase available variations (colors, styles) with high-quality images, helping customers choose the right product and reducing the likelihood of post-delivery disappointment.
Implement Virtual Try-On ToolsIntegrate virtual try-on tools using augmented reality for products like eyewear, cosmetics, or accessories, enhancing the online shopping experience and minimizing returns due to mismatched expectations.
Utilize Customer FeedbackRegularly review feedback and return reasons to identify patterns and issues leading to returns. Use this data to optimize product descriptions, images, and policies, improving the overall shopping experience.

By focusing on proactive measures that improve the shopping experience and reduce uncertainty, you can effectively minimize the need for holiday returns. When customers feel confident in their purchases, they are more likely to be satisfied with their items, resulting in higher customer retention and overall business success.

Return Package Photo via Shutterstock

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Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends, covering feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. She has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College Chicago in Journalism and Marketing Communications.

3 Reactions
  1. This can happen and it can happen all at the same time. What matters is that you have a way to deal with it. More of like a system based on any situation that may arise.

  2. Its really an great information. I will be more helpful for all the eCommerce players. thank you

    tara, Ecbilla

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