With retailers putting the finishing touches on their holiday preparations, it’s now time to start thinking about the new year. Before the red hearts and chocolates of Valentine’s Day flutter your mind, there’s one more crucial aspect of the holidays that cannot be forgotten: Returns.
Holiday returns are the jammed funny bones of this busy season for retailers. Last year, most consumers (77%) expected to return holiday gifts they received. Just when you think you’ve made a huge profit from gift purchases, they come back to haunt in late December or early January, and with COVID-19 restrictions still in place for most U.S. states, they will be even more painful than past years.
Increase Your Cleanliness Practices
If indie retailers want to keep their customers happy and have them coming back well after the holiday rush, then accepting returns is a must. Major retailers such as Target and Walmart will have no issues accepting returns, since they have been taking the same safety protocols necessary before COVID-19 swept the nation. Now, according to Sender Shamiss, president and CEO of goTRG, it’s time for the smaller retailers to follow suit.
“Now that things are picking back up, taking and sanitizing returns is important,” Shamiss said. “Larger companies have been dealing with all sorts of sanitization for decades. Most returns stay for about three days to make sure no germs are spread, warehouses have social distancing and everyone wears gloves, and everything is sanitized using sprays and wipes.”
Ecommerce Shipping Delays
Just as consumers are expecting to see their online holiday purchases arrive later, they should also expect ecommerce returns to be delayed. With about 30 percent of online purchases being returned, not including during the holiday season, major shipping carriers are going to be behind for quite some time. To help deal with this, Matt Crawford, General Manager of shipping at BigCommerce, says the biggest thing retailers can do is build in extra time and communicate clearly with customers to set appropriate expectations.
“We are all dealing with the virus, and most shoppers understand there are significant added challenges with shipping volumes and delays, not to mention that many retailers are also facing additional time to put refunded items in quarantine or take extra time to process returns to protect everyone’s safety,” Crawford said. “Our merchant experience shows that most customers are understanding of the situation, but even so, retailers need to let customers know they are taking precautions, and those precautions might slow things down.”
The Fast & Free Shipping Competition is Fierce
Even though major shipping carriers will be delaying packages and increasing their rates, Hannah Sowers, Founder and CEO of Union of Elements, says it should be absolutely required that retailers find a way to maintain their free shipping offers and shipping promotions. Customers have come to expect fast and free shipping from larger retailers, which puts pressure on smaller operations and even though it may seem unfair, it doesn’t change the customer’s expectation.
To help save on shipping costs, in-store returns can be a win-win when paired with a choice, according to Sowers. “As we are seeing with restaurants who have evolved with the introduction of COVID, customers have varying preferences in how they want to get their food; delivered, curbside, take away, sit down etc. The successful companies are those who can be fluid with the needs and wants of their customers.”
There is no doubt that rising shipping fees are putting a squeeze on retailers and consumers alike, but it’s a big risk for merchants to stop offering free shipping. Instead, Crawford recommends that retailers try to continue to offer free shipping at a lower class of service. Businesses can raise the free shipping threshold to increase higher AOV, and then perhaps even slightly increase prices of either the products or the shipping in order to keep offering free shipping as a benefit to shoppers.