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Ecommerce shoppers developed new habits over the last year – from curbside pickup, increased online shopping, virtual fitting rooms, in-store returns, and more. It is reasonable to expect consumers to employ these skills when gift shopping this holiday season, including using retailers’ free return shipping offers.

According to the National Retail Federation, U.S. holiday sales in 2020 totaled $761 billion, with $101 billion in merchandise, or 13.3% of those sales, returned.

As part of creating an efficient user experience, returns must be an important component of your ecommerce strategy. Now – before the holiday rush begins – is the perfect time to re-evaluate your shopper’s return experience.

Returns are a part of retail throughout the year, but they play an even greater role during the holiday season. Returns are to be expected, but they shouldn’t be viewed as a negative. While it’s easy to think about a return as simply negating a sale, your retail organization can actually grow the business – with both new shoppers and incremental revenue – by optimizing returns.

Here are three ways to improve the ecommerce return process:

1. Clearly outline the return policy and process.

Many shoppers, even those who purchase and return in-store, visit your website to understand your policies and learn how to return items.

It’s important to make it as easy as possible for consumers to find this information, especially during the holiday season. Many retailers offer an extended holiday return policy, such as all purchases after October 31 can be returned anytime between December 20 and January 31. If your returns period is extended, publicize that on your website, store signage, and especially receipts.

Make sure that you clearly explain your return policy, including:

  • in-store returns are welcomed;
  • how long items bought during the holiday period can be returned;
  • requirements such as ID, tags, and receipts;
  • how the refund tender will be handled – cash, exchange, gift card, or merchandise credit.

You should also outline the return process, for BOTH in-store and online. Keep in mind that your audience includes both gift purchasers and gift recipients who may have never been on your website or in your store before.

For shipped returns, provide the option to print return labels and share the tracking information. You can also make the buy-online-return-in-store (BORIS) option as easy as possible by providing a store locator, store hours and directions, as well as the location of the returns counter within each store.

Consider creating a checklist or flowchart to provide shoppers with personalized directions based on how they want to return items.

While it’s easy to think about a return as simply negating a sale, your retail organization can actually grow the business – with both new shoppers and incremental revenue – by optimizing returns.

2. Encourage buy-online-return-in-store (BORIS).

Consumers who only shop your brand online miss the experience of seeing items in person, which often makes a greater impact than online pictures.

This is even more true for gift recipients who may not be familiar with your assortment.

By encouraging the consumer to visit your store, you can better deliver a brand experience that can make a positive impression as they experience elevated service, product selection, and quality (and eliminate the costs and environmental impacts of shipping).

When consumers return an item, offer incentives for them to make additional purchases. Our recent research has shown that purchase after return (PAR) activity is 20% for BORIS consumers vs. only 1% for consumers who buy-online-and-return-online (BORO). While the goal is to get shoppers into the store, you can also offer a similar incentive to those who typically return online to encourage them to shop around the store during their visit.

3. Use your consumer data to provide an easier return process while reducing risk.

Retailers have accumulated a wealth of consumer transaction data with their specific stores and ecommerce sites, and frequently channel it to marketing for CRM programs. That data can also be used to enhance the consumer return experience in-store and online.

  • About 99% of your shoppers exhibit shopping behaviors that are good for your business. They are all likely to make a return here and there, and when they do, your POS system should expedite their return process.
  • By the same token, there are a small percentage of consumers who cause loss — wardrobers, renters, or fraudsters. When they attempt to return merchandise, they can be identified through the system and their return requests can be dispositioned according to your return policy.

Planning Ahead for Holiday Ecommerce Returns

As an ecommerce leader, your role is to create a positive omnichannel shopping experience, which includes browsing, purchasing, and returning an item. By considering the return process throughout your ecommerce shopper journey, you can help your organization both increase revenue, better manage returns, and curate a productive omnichannel experience that benefits consumers and the business.


Retailers Can Save Millions Redirecting Consumers to Return In-Store: A Machine Learning Approach



Tom Rittman, Vice President, Marketing, Appriss Retail

Tom Rittman, vice president of Marketing at Appriss Retail, is responsible for all aspects of branding, marketing, and business development. Prior to joining Appriss Retail, Tom served as the vice president of marketing for Datavantage, a retail technology company that is now part of Oracle. He holds his bachelor’s degree in Marketing from the University of Akron.

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