The holidays are around the corner, which means e-tailers need to get their business strategies in place now. But it’s not enough to just think about fulfillment and daily deals. Returns are as much a part of the holiday season planning process as shipping and projected revenue.
With online holiday spending expected to grow to as much as $105 billion in 2014, product returns will inevitably increase as well. And while the thought of returns might make a retailer shudder, planning ahead can actually help increase sales long term. Eighty-nine percent of shoppers say they’ll revisit an online store after a positive returns experience.
Making the returns experience positive for customers doesn’t have to be a giant headache for ecommerce businesses. Here are some tips to get your returns process on track for the holidays.
Communicate clearly across all fronts
A positive returns experience begins with clear communication, and the first point of communication is the return policy.
Make sure your return policy is clear and easy to find on your website. For example, include a link to it on every product page so that shoppers can review before they buy. A good policy highlights what products are eligible for returns, the time frame for returning, refund details and whether there are any restocking or shipping fees for a return.
Clear communication extends beyond the return policy as well. Consider including instructions for returns in your holiday shipments and on your website. That way, customers have everything they need to know about the returns process right at their fingertips.
Adjust the returns time frame for the holidays
The holiday season proves that return time frames are not “one-size-fits-all.”
People shop for gifts at different points throughout the season, but they may not realize they need a return until the holidays are over.
To account for this, consider extending the returns period for products purchased between specific dates. For example, if a product was purchased between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24, give folks until Jan. 31 to make a return.
Offering people more time to complete their return shows you understand their busy holiday schedule and the challenges of finding the perfect gift. Plus, being flexible with your return timeframe may encourage that initial purchase in the first place.
Get your RMA system in place
A return merchandise authorization system (or RMA for short), allows retailers to easily record and track returns by tagging products with a unique “return” number.
Many ecommerce platforms offer this capability. Check to see whether your software provides the RMA function and — if you haven’t set it up — now is the time to do so.
There’s a customer benefit to RMA systems as well. Since returns are tracked, this makes it easier for retailers to provide updates to customers on the status of their return. To speed up the returns process, advise customers to include the RMA number on return packages or shipping labels.
Minimize the cost of a return
It’s no secret that the holidays are a financially stressful time of year. As an e-tailer, it’s in your best interest to keep return shipping costs low so that customers stay happy and come back for more.
The best way to minimize the cost of a return shipment is by taking a closer look at the way you ship. The carriers you use and the packaging you select can all make a difference in cost.
Take the Postal Service, for example. They just introduced new Priority Mail rates, reducing the cost to ship packages weighing between 1 and 40 pounds. This makes them an excellent option for both outbound and return shipments.
At the end of the day, customers are willing to pay for return shipping as long as you give them affordable options. Knowing your carriers’ strengths and pricing helps you deliver these options to them.
Provide easy access to return shipping labels
Shopping online is all about convenience. Product returns should be the same.
If it makes sense for your business model, include a return shipping label in the outbound shipment along with instructions for the return. If it doesn’t make sense, make sure you have the resources in place to create and send a return shipping label via email.
That said, it’s important to cover your bases. Make sure customers can contact you if they do need to request a return or in case they lose their return shipping label in a tornado of holiday wrapping paper.
By implementing these few easy tips, your returns process can meet any curveball thrown its way — not just during the holiday season, but well into the New Year and beyond.
Amine Khechfe is the co-founder and general manager at Endicia