Are You Prepared to Handle Holiday Returns?

From ugly sweaters to novelty kitchen appliances, nearly $95 billion worth of merchandise sold during the holidays will end back where it started—with U.S. retailers.

According to a 2016 UPS sturdy, 51% of consumers said a hassle-free policy was a key element of an optimal returns experience.

So before the season gets too crazy, make sure you’re prepared to handle returns in a way that will strengthen brand loyalty and inspire customers to spend more.

Here are several ways you can make holiday returns a positive experience for your customers:

Create a Special Holiday Policy

If you’re like most retailers, you already have a returns policy in place, clearly outlining which items are returnable/exchangeable, the condition you’ll accept them in, and the time frame for returning them.

However, the holidays come with unique circumstances. Ordinarily, you might require that returns to be made within 30 days. But early shoppers won’t even exchange gifts within that time so the recipient wouldn’t have an opportunity to return it. In this case, you might want to offer more flexibility for holiday returns, as long as you make the policy very clear.

Additionally,  make sure your holiday returns policy is prominently displayed. You might post it on your website’s home and/or product pages for online shoppers, as well on copies of printable transaction statements. In your retail store, you could use strategically placed signage, along with printing your policy on credit card and cash receipts.

Make the Returns Process as Easy as Possible

Remove as many hurdles as possible to create a smooth in-store returns process. One best practice is to place your returns counter in the front of the store so it is easy to find, as well as convenient for dropping off returned merchandise.

Managing your lines should be a top priority, suggests Small Business Trends. “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.” A great example of this is The Home Depot, where they have a greeter at the front of the store and the returns desk right inside the door. This helps the customer and the store efficiently process returns.

Merchants should also make refunds as quickly as possible, which was important to the returns experience for 42% of consumers surveyed by UPS.

“The returns process at Home Depot is streamlined – they don’t ask 30 questions about the return. The customer walks away happy and heads over to the hardware aisle to pick up something new.”

Source: UPS

For online returns, don’t make e-customers pack up a box, write out an address label and buy postage. Give them a printable packing slip with clear instructions for how to send the item back.

Train Employees

It’s essential that your team is up to the task of handling holiday returns. Make sure they understand exactly what to look for, how to process the return, and how to interact with customers to keep the line moving while ensuring a positive experience. You might also consider keeping a copy of your returns policy at the front desk where it can easily be accessed when needed.

If you have an e-commerce store, you still need to be sure your team can assist customers with questions and process returned items in a quick and efficient manner.

It might also be helpful to hire some temporary help so that you can handle all the extra work without overworking your team or negatively impacting the customer experience, advises Small Business Trends.

Negative customer interactions can drive shoppers away, so motivate your team to look and be enthusiastic and happy while dealing with returns. Make sure your employees understand the importance that a positive returns process plays in encouraging customers to come back.

Transform Returns Into Sales

“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,” says Small Business Trends. “Even if you do accept cash returns, exchanges or store credit can help your business keep more of its holiday profits.”

Consider, for example, offering a better deal for those who are just making exchanges or getting store credit. You might also think about offering special deals to those with regular returns so you can continue making sales beyond the holiday season. Another way to make sales off returns is to set up special displays in strategic areas so that those coming into the store to bring back merchandise will be more likely to make some impulse buys.

“In retail, we take it as a given that returns are bad for the bottom line. But here’s the silver–maybe even platinum–lining: A return, at least one that is made in-store, means the customer is in the store!

Source: Micah Solomon

Product returns give you more opportunities to engage customers and make more sales. While it may not be their intention to make a purchase, if you impress them with an awesome experience, they might decide to buy something else or come back at a later time.


As Business Insider points out, “Retailers would be wise to prepare for in-store returns, as they’re the fastest and least expensive option, and can lead to additional sales.”

To give consumers the return experience they want, retailers should make sure they have solid return policies in place, train store associates to handle returns quickly and efficiently, and remove as much friction as possible from the returns process.

“In-store returns can even lead to new sales, as more than half of respondents (54%) said they made an additional purchase in-store while returning an item, which can help soften the blow of holiday returns.”

Source: Business Insider

“If boosting sales and creating healthy long-term relationships with your customers is on your to-do list this holiday season,” advises Business Insider, “ should continue refining and improving returns policy and process to promote happy customer returns.”

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Also published on Medium.

Sherene Funk is the author of the contemporary romance Autumn in Your Arms and two small business e-books. She is a voracious reader who owns more books than she can ever read in this lifetime. A graduate of Brigham Young University, she worked in advertising for many years before moving to her current writing position at Rain Retail Software. She researches non-stop to see what successful retailers do and loves to share what she learns with small business owners.