As holiday shopping is nearing its end, retailers are preparing for what the return season will look like and how they can manage the number of exchanges and returns. Every year post-holiday returns are at the highest. 77% of consumers anticipated returning some of the gifts they would receive, according to an Oracle 2019 report. However, this year will bring new challenges with the growth of online shopping.
In 2020, we’ve seen retailers quickly adapt to the pandemic by growing their omnichannel presence. As such, online shopping has surged providing a more convenient and safer option for customers to shop. Deloitte forecasts that overall holiday retail sales will be flat compared to 2019, however, ecommerce sales will grow by 25% to 35% year-over-year this season. As ecommerce purchases spike, there will be an increase in returns. Salesforce projects US$280 billion in online purchases are expected to be returned globally.
With a different shopping environment this year, retailers will need to adjust their holiday return policies and procedures to accommodate high levels of exchange and returns while providing the customer care service needed to maintain safe and quality experiences both online and in-store. Brands will encourage physical store returns to help reduce costs and speed up returns. As well, they’ll also have to adjust in-store traffic flow to maintain health and safety protocols. Regardless of the number of returns, what will be important this year is maintaining high-level customer experience to maintain brand trust and retain loyal customers.
Here are some ways retailers will prepare and streamline the return process this season:
Extended holiday return period
The product return levels may not be what retailers are used to seeing this year. To reduce pile ups and still be able to manage new orders in the New Year, retailers like Cartier, Peoples Jewellers and Kohl’s, will extend the period of exchange and return. For many retailers as long as you have the gift or original receipt, you’ll be able to receive a full refund on unopened and unworn items well into January.
Pop-up kiosks appear in malls
Retailers will use malls to resurrect pop-up kiosks to optimize the return process and decrease shipping and handling costs. Mall owner Simon Property Group is setting up a concierge desk at six major malls to receive returns from big brand names like Levi’s and GAP. Brands will direct customers to a nearby mall through online return forms to encourage a physical return rather than a costly shipping return.
In-store incentives during return season
Retailers will encourage customers to return to the store while managing traffic flow. Brands may offer staged returns or one-day discounts on incremental purchases in store. Stores can markdown products that aren’t moving to get them to sell. As shoppers come into the store to return items, they may be enticed to exchange items or use their credit towards a new purchase in-store rather than leaving empty handed.
To reduce queues and crowded aisles, retailers will provide alternative return methods with a customer-initiated focus. Customers will be able to buy online and return in store, letting the customer process the return online with return labels and forms. This will streamline the return process and limit the amount of time spent in the store. Dressbarn offers contactless returns, allowing shoppers to purchase items online and drop off returns in-person, maintaining a contactless experience with the accessibility of a physical drop-off location.
As retailers find innovative ways to navigate the post-holiday season, they will look to their most important asset, the store associate, to play a central role. Store associates are well-versed in product and delivering virtual and in-store experiences. As returns are made, associates have the chance to convert returns into sales. They can guide customers in finding alternative items, showcase deals, or complete a return in-store in an efficient and comfortable way. As brand ambassadors, they’ll be instrumental in making the experience both seamless and convenient, leading to satisfied returning customers.
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