Returns: Top tips for retailers at Christmas

While for many Christmas conjures up images of stacks of presents, lovingly decorated Christmas trees and perfectly roasted turkeys, for many retailers that very same word can bring forth visions of stacks of returns at the warehouse door, winding queues of customers and floods of queries to the call centre.

While even the thought of returns can bring on a 'nightmare before Christmas', the good news is that there are a lot of little things that retailers can do now to stop returns before they start. Eric Fergusson, Head of Retail Services, eCommera gives his three top tips to retailers on how they can best manage returns– or even better, prevent them.

1. The devil is in the detail

Providing consumers with the right level of detail, clearly laid out, can help to stop returns before they start. Displaying the product as clearly as is possible from all angles and in context is essential so customers know exactly what it is they are buying.

To complement product images, apparel retailers do well to include an easy-to-read size guide and information on model size and fit i.e. this item runs small. Keeping reviews in close proximity to product information on the page can also help consumers to decide if an item is right for them.

2. Pause promotion of items with high returns rates

If you notice an item is being returned more than is usual, pause any promotions and reduce the traffic viewing the item on site. Review the returns codes, as well as customer reviews for the items. Look out for feedback which could offer clues to the unusually high returns- is it one size or one colour that is being returned? You'll want to have confidence the issue is with the way in which the product is presented on the site rather than with the product itself.

If you haven't got time to redo imagery, add in some commentary to the product description. For example if the colour isn't quite as it appears, make a note of that. Once you've made changes, resume promotion but keep a close eye on the item.

3. Deliver on promise

Sometimes the simple reason for a return is that the customer didn't receive it on time. With increased volumes and unpredictable weather, the risk of missing promise during Christmas trading is heightened.

Retailers are quite good at making delivery times clear. In addition to displaying this at check-out and on the product page, including cut-off times directly on the homepage is a good practice. It is also worth considering adding in a buffer around delivery times in case something goes wrong – be it overwhelmed warehouse staff or a 5 centimetre snowfall wreaking havoc across the country.

Still worried about returns? You shouldn't be. When properly managed, returns can showcase retailers' customer service skills and even promote customer loyalty. Consumers are placing increasing importance on the ease of returns and are expecting a high level of service, so now tis' the season for retailers to match the demand.

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