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Think ahead to January. While the holiday decorations are still decking your store aisles, the post-holiday return scene at retail stores of all sizes can be even busier than the pre-holiday weeks. And the atmosphere is different as consumers are hyper focused on making returns and finding deals. While shoppers have many valid reasons for returns such as wrong size, color or fit, preference for a different item, or product not working like it should, they are all seeking the same thing – a solution. While the holiday spirit is no longer quite as festive, the post-holiday return season can provide an opportunity to show your good consumers that you care about them, even when they make a return.

...for 2021, the National Retail Federation has estimated that holiday retail sales will grow by another 8.5% to 10.5%.

Note: returns are not necessarily a bad thing for your retail business.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), U.S. holiday sales in 2020 totaled $761 billion, with $101 billion in merchandise, or 13.3% of those sales, returned. And, for 2021, the National Retail Federation has estimated that holiday retail sales will grow by another 8.5% to 10.5%.

With some planning, creativity, and modern AI, your return process can help welcome new shoppers, enhance engagement with loyal shoppers and drive incremental sales in the short and long-term.

Turn Returns into Sales Opportunities

When the return line is out the door, employees often work long hours dealing with frustrated consumers, which reduces employee satisfaction. Not to mention, the piles of products cluttering the consumer service area and the hours needed to process and restock.

However, you can inspire additional spending when you reimagine the consumer return experience. By giving shoppers making a return an incentive to use their refund to explore other products and collections throughout the store. This approach can effectively convert returns into a positive experience for the consumer, and for the retailer.

The secret to capitalizing on returns is to proactively create a plan before holiday shopping gets under way.

Here are four ways to use returns to engage new (and existing) shoppers:

  1. Be consistent with how you manage returns across channels. Consumers have multiple options for how to return products – online, through a call center or at a local store. While each channel operates a bit differently, shoppers should have a consistent experience regardless of how they reach out to your store. You can improve the consumer experience during the return process by ensuring that associates at each channel use the same consumer transaction data and the same return policies. With the same return policy across channels, you can reduce risk by preventing bad actors from circumventing the process. You can then reduce costs and create a smooth experience for the 99% of consumers who are making legitimate returns.
  2. Encourage good shoppers to make necessary returns. Your loyal consumers support your business and may be hesitant to make a return. Perhaps they are concerned about the hassle or worried about offending a salesperson or losing loyalty program benefits. Regardless, by providing a personalized message or incentive offer at the point-of-return, you can show shoppers that you value their business and show your eagerness to help address their needs.
  3. Provide shoppers with an incentive to make another purchase after the return. One of the secrets to encouraging omnichannel returns is to give loyal shoppers and gift recipients a compelling reason to visit your store to make the return. Retailers get positive feedback from shoppers when they provide a discount or special offer to make additional purchases in store after a return. Shoppers then leave the store with a positive feeling and hopefully turn into a loyal consumer in the future. Nearly 40% of the consumers who received incentives from a retailer using Appriss Retail’s solution have made a purchase after their return, and 9% will return to shop again within 30 days.
  4. Simplify the online return process for the shopper. Consumers often don’t know where to start when making a return from an online purchase, such as how to ship and where to send. When you use a Return Management Authorization (RMA) tool, you can include a pre-printed return label with every product purchased online. RMA tools also allow you to include an option for shoppers to print return shipping labels from the website. Because RMA tools access the consumer purchase data, the labels can reference the specific order to streamline processing at your warehouse. By making it as easy as possible for shoppers to get shipping labels, consumers are happier, returned products arrive to you sooner with fewer mistakes and fewer consumer calls to the call center.

Planning Ahead for Holiday Returns

Many retailers prepare for holiday shopping during the early fall, but often put creating a holiday return strategy at the bottom of their to-do list. And once the holiday rush hits, they don’t consider returns until right before the holidays – or worse, when they see the line of post-holiday shoppers with their returns.

The secret to capitalizing on returns is to proactively create a plan before holiday shopping gets under way. And then, when you and your staff come to work on December 26, you simply put your plan into action.

How to Turn Returns into a Rewarding Customer Experience



Carrie Cassidy, Director, Marketing, Appriss Retail

A technology advocate for more than 25 years, Carrie makes information about advanced data analytics solutions accessible to retail professionals through a variety of media. She has written numerous white papers, case studies, and articles for a variety of industries ranging from motion control to human resources.

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