Shipping during the holidays can be a quite a challenge. Getting packages delivered on time is tough enough, but peak season returns can be an even greater headache. Return shipping is just a part of the retail experience, but with proper planning it is possible to control. Review these seven strategies before you create that plan to help to ensure a more seamless process for your peak season returns.
Strategy #1: Commit to full transparency regarding your return policy
When you think about your own shopping preferences, it becomes clear that reviewing a return policy before purchase is standard procedure. This is especially important if your peak season return policy is different than the rest of the year. Shoppers want to know what they’re getting into before they click “place my order.” When a retailer makes return information easily accessible, the buyer is more likely to make a purchase because there is less risk.
Proactively communicate the policy in places like order confirmations and follow-up emails. It’s also key to stay in contact during all stages of the buying process. Send order tracking links in emails, send delivery notifications, and create a clear FAQ section on your website that includes contact options. The more information you have readily available for customers, the more confident your buyers will be.
Strategy #2: Optimize your packaging procedures
Shipment volume is alarmingly high, and will be compounded during the holidays. During peak times, your packages will spend more time in transit and encounter more stops along the way. That means more handling at service terminals, which can result in added damages. Take a hard look at your return rates related to damaged shipments. If you’re seeing an above-average trend, consider whether your packaging procedures need to be adjusted. It may make sense to use boxes rather than mailers, for example. Minimizing extra space and adding more bubble wrap or packing foam can better protect your products. If you’re sending out large items, consider breaking them down for transit rather than shipping them assembled. Don’t underestimate how much your packaging can affect your return rate due to damages.
Strategy #3: Limit returns that are caused by late deliveries
There are always last-minute holiday shoppers — you might even know a few. Late deliveries often lead to returns during the peak season, since they didn’t arrive in time for the big date. Ensure that you make it very clear for customers what the cutoff dates are for their order to be shipped in time for Christmas. An easy-to-scan reference table of this information will help your shoppers avoid late arrivals.
To determine those cutoff dates, be sure to review the deadlines published by your carrier. You may also want to add in some buffer days in case of any unforeseen delays. During the peak season when demand is high, unfortunately there can be a higher risk of your orders not being delivered in time.
Make sure you’re also offering expedited options at check-out, to provide a solution for shoppers who need a quicker turnaround. For serious stragglers, offer in-store pick-up if you have a brick-and-mortar option.
Strategy #4: Improve your returns plan by auditing your process yearly
It’s never a good idea to assume this year’s peak season returns strategy should be the same as last year. Every year, your returns plan and options need to be reviewed. Your first step should be to take a look at your returns rate and the reasons for the returns. Find out whether items are being returned due to product performance, or other issues like damages or late delivery. If it turns out that you have a shipping issue, make sure you’re following our tips mentioned above.
After you take care of any shipping challenges, look at what returns options measure up with what you can feasibly afford. Free shipping of any kind is a perk, but you need to be mindful of your budget and compensate for that expense. Consider a flexible policy, such as free returns on full-price items, or within a certain window of time. Think about charging for delivery, but keeping returns free. When you’re reviewing whether these options will fit your budget, don’t forget to check carrier rate changes and peak surcharges, both of which affect your shipping costs. From there, you can adjust your returns plan as-needed.
Strategy #5: Consider on-demand warehousing to simplify orders and returns
The overhead costs involved in setting up and maintaining a warehouse are expensive. Due to the cyclical nature of the industry, many retailers don’t find it worth it to use in-house solutions. On-demand warehousing is a great opportunity for businesses that need short-term fulfillment options but don’t want to be under contract. This strategy helps increase flexibility by housing inventory only when needed. If you have seasonal inventory overflow, on-demand options can help eliminate long-term commitments. For businesses that do not need a warehouse year-round, on-demand warehousing is the way to go.
Strategy #6 Give your customers a variety of return options
Consumers want return options that fit into their busy lives. Don’t complicate the relationship you have with your customers by making an already disappointing situation even worse. Offer methods that fit preferences and convenience, such as a choice to return product online and in-store. In-store returns give retailers more facetime with the customer and offer a better chance of turning the transaction into an exchange. However, many shoppers want the convenience and time-saving choice of shipping back their order. Consider using carriers like FedEx that allow drop offs at a variety of locations, including FedEx Ship Centers, drop-off boxes, Office Depot, Walgreens, and more.
Strategy #7 Make shipping peak season returns as easy as possible for your customer
While you probably want to avoid returns as often as possible, don’t try to dodge them completely by making the process super complicated. Smart retailers know that they cannot always be avoided — the ultimate goal is to use returns as an opportunity to increase brand satisfaction. Remind your customer of your returns and replacement policy throughout the buying process. Include return information on your order confirmation page and within follow up emails. Choose secure packaging that can be reused if needed, and include labels and instructions for returns with the product you’re shipping out. Think long-term — customers that have a bad experience with a retailer this year, will actively avoid them in the future. Making returns easy creates a positive buying experience, and increases confidence for both you and the customer.
Putting the strategies into action
Retail and peak season returns go hand-in-hand. They aren’t ideal, but if you know how to prepare, manage, and use them to your advantage, your business can thrive during the holidays. PartnerShip has strong relationships with a variety of retail groups, and we are uniquely positioned to help strategize your returns process in a way that works best for your business. From on-demand warehouse solutions to saving money on the costs of returns, we can help make your holiday season a success.