Are You Ready for Holiday Returns?

January 4, 2017


The dust is settling following a record-breaking holiday season — Cyber Monday alone was the largest online sales day in history with $3.39 billion spent online, according to Adobe.

While the 2016 holiday shopping season has come to a close, ecommerce retailers are still dealing with holiday shipping in the form of holiday returns. This time of year there are plenty of reasons for merchandise returns, whether a shopper wants a refund on item they bought for themselves or a gift recipient is trying to send back something they don’t want or can’t use.

UPS expects holiday shoppers to return more than 5.8 million packages during the first full week of January this year, up from 5 million packages during this peak returns week last year (and that’s just via UPS—the number only climbs when adding in USPS and FedEx returns, too).

Wondering what you can do to make the returns process easier for your customers without hurting your business? It’s all about your policy and your people.

Your returns policy

At minimum, your ecommerce website should have a dedicated returns page explaining what can and can’t be returned, how long customers have to return an item, and the process for returning merchandise, and any associated costs like a restocking fee. Make sure your returns information is easy to find—put a link to your returns policy on your homepage. You could also consider including a link to the returns policy page on product pages or during the checkout process.

Some online retailers may choose to adjust their returns policy for the holiday season by:

  • extending the returns window—think of the time delay between buying a gift and giving
  • putting more emphasis on their exchange policy to make it easier for the recipient of an unwanted gift to trade it in for something else from your store
  • clearly stating when a full refund is an option and when only store credit and exchanges are available (i.e. when someone wants to return a gift with or without a gift receipt)

If you do adjust your returns policy for the holidays, just be sure to update your website once you go back to your standard returns policy.

Your employees

Whether they’re full-time staff or seasonal employees, make sure your team is properly trained to handle holiday returns. Two key sections of your staff roster to focus on are customer service and your warehouse staff. Your customer service team should know your return policy inside and out and know when to flag special cases (like when someone wants to return that sweater Aunt Gladys gave them but they didn’t get a gift receipt). Checking in with customer service can help you ensure that the returns process is flowing smoothly, and may also help determine if there are recurring returns-related issues that you need to address and improve upon.

You’ll also want to train receiving and warehouse staff how to process the returned merchandise. The sooner your team can unpack and review return shipments, the sooner you can issue a refund, and the sooner your customer can check another item off their post-holiday list.

ShipStation can help

Another way to make returns easier on your customers not just during the holidays but all year long is to include a returns shipping label when you’re packaging up their orders. See how to set this up by clicking here.

And stay tuned as the new year rolls on—not only will we have more tips to get your business in ship-shape for 2017, but we’ll be announcing new features that’ll make sure you get more ship done in 2017 than you did in 2016!