The Ecommerce boom of 2020 reached its peak during the holiday season, with more people shopping online than ever before. Naturally, increased order numbers resulted in higher return volumes.
Ringing in the new year, many retailers are now facing a wave of post-holiday returns. Causing increased demand and pressure on customer experience management, logistics networks, and warehouse activities, among various other operations.
A recent study has shown that this year, over 70% of online shoppers predict they will return a portion of their holiday orders.
Handling peak season volumes is always a challenge. Yet, with the right support, know-how, and tools, retailers can secure a returns flow that works for both the brand and customers year-round, even during the busiest of seasons.
Read on to learn some of our tips and tricks on managing these post-peak parcel volumes.
Lengthen Your Returns Policy
Many e-commerce stores are now providing their customers with an extended returns window. This is now often 100 days, in comparison to the regular 30-day policies we’ve seen previously. When tackling peak season, this can be a great place to start to ensure that return channels don’t become overwhelmed within a short time frame.
Providing consumers with a longer decision time discourages a rush to return unwanted items. Additionally, it also adds to the after-sales experience by offering more flexibility to the returns policy and placing more trust in customers’ hands.
Some retailers in North America are even stretching their returns policy to a whole year, to help promote more balanced returns volumes month-by-month.
Offer Omni-Channel Returns
To provide a solution that works for all customers, retailers must facilitate a number of different ways to return. To cater to a variety of demographics, locations, budgets, and lifestyles that make up any consumer base.
For example, industry insights show that although return-to-store may be the most popular way to return overall, this can vary among age groups, with younger consumers accessing this option in lesser numbers. In the same way some shoppers may prefer the use of online platforms to return, while others want to do this in person, or pen to paper.
The broader the return options, the more flexibility and customization brands can provide their customers. That’s why it’s important, especially during busy seasons, to offer solutions such as in-store returns, alongside online returns options where customers can drop-off parcels to local postal points or have them collected. This has only become more valuable during the Covid-19 pandemic, where store closures have only raised the significance of access to online return options.
Keep Customers in the Loop
During busy periods it’s natural that customer requests also grow, placing extra pressure on customer service channels. The best way to tackle this is to maintain clear and effective communication lines with audiences. This is especially relevant during the returns process when consumers are eagerly awaiting refund or exchange action.
Integrating features such as a track and trace system means that customers can check directly online about the status of their return. This in itself will answer many questions that may otherwise have been customer service requests.
It’s also best to take an honest and transparent approach to communication. For example, during peak season the returns network often faces delays due to busyness. By communicating this delay clearly and directly to customers, brands can manage expectations and once again side-step a number of would-be reach outs to customer service. This approach will also garner trust among the consumer pool and help to encourage return spending.
Automate Where Possible
When it comes to the post-holiday returns peak, perhaps nothing is more effective that automating processes where possible. Both on the consumer-facing and logistics side of the return operation.
Online software is both an essential communication channel and data-sharing tool. A consumer returns portal, for example, allows customers to conduct their own return, choosing their personal preferences along the way. Whether this be drop-off locations, postal carriers or label options. No matter what return route they choose, the required data to fulfill this action is stored and shared efficiently with all stakeholders, optimizing the return journey from start to finish.
Warehouse software is also essential here for making the return process as seamless as possible. Again, data provided and shared real-time here gives all the information needed to effectively process any return. Where does this item need to go next? Does it need to be reconditioned? Can the customer’s refund now be sent?
This data also includes vital customs information which, in a post-Brexit market, is the key to keeping everything running smoothly in cross-border transactions.
Think Smartly About Transport
By consolidating shipments of returns, retailers can streamline their reverse logistics network. Ensuring that parcel and pallet shipments are arranged in an orderly manner. For example, grouping returns to be transported by brand, end destination or product type.
An added benefit of this is that consolidation also avoids the unnecessary transport of returns and is, therefore, a greener option by reducing vehicle emissions. If returns operations are kept local, this only reduces the environmental footprint further.