Posted: Wed 19th Jan 2022
If you’re an e-commerce brand, you’re probably glad that the Christmas rush is over. But is it really? While you may have made a huge number of sales during the festive period, you’re probably now facing an influx of returns.
If you want to find out how to best handle peak season returns, read this complete guide from the team at 3PL – the UK’s leading third-party logistics provider.
For more business support in this area, connect with Ian Walker on Enterprise Nation.
What are peak season returns?
Put simply, this refers to the returns that you have to process either during, or immediately after, your peak sales periods.
Your peak sales season will depend on the retail vertical in which you operate. For example, if you’re a retailer of electronic goods, you’ll probably find that either Black Friday or Cyber Monday is your biggest sales event of the year.
On the other hand, retailers of products such as clothes will see peak sales occurring at different times of the year, reflecting the changes in seasons and popular holiday periods.
Why are peak season returns important?
Returns matter. From your brand reputation to your bottom line, it’s vital that you treat your peak season returns seriously.
First, there’s the cost to consider. In the UK, it’s been estimated that returned items cost retailers £60 billion every year. Get your peak season returns strategy wrong and it could cost you dearly.
Second, customers expect returns to be handled quickly and accurately. If you don’t handle your peak season returns correctly, you could lose repeat custom, suffer reputational damage and more.
To put this into context, a recent UPS survey found that 73% of consumers will only purchase from a retailer again if they have a good returns experience.
Like we said, returns matter!
What are the peak returns dates?
With that in mind, what are the most common peak returns dates? Let’s take a look:
Take Back Monday – usually falling on the first working Monday following Christmas and New Year, this is the day on which most post-festive season returns occur.
Singles’ Day – if you sell into the Chinese market, you’ll need to plan for a flurry of potential returns following Singles’ Day. This takes place on 11 November each year and is China’s premier e-commerce sales event.
Black Friday – typically taking place on the fourth Friday of November (unless 1 November is a Friday), this day marks the start of the Christmas shopping season. For many retailers, it also marks the beginning of their peak season returns.
Cyber Monday – an online-focused sales event taking place on the Monday immediately following Black Friday. Combined with Black Friday, Cyber Monday will normally generate a significant volume of returns for many retailers.
Free Shipping Day – although not as widely known as some of the other dates on this list, Free Shipping Day is growing in popularity, with an increasing number of retailers offering free shipping during mid-December. In 2022, Free Shipping Day will take place on Wednesday 14 December. As you would expect, the offer of free shipping has a big impact on the rate of returns for many retailers.
Boxing Day Sales – from 26 December each year, many retailers push their sales and discounting efforts into overdrive. As a natural consequence, these sales then drive a higher volume of returns.
As we mentioned earlier, the degree to which these dates will affect your peak season returns will very much depend on your individual brand.
Nevertheless, the key point is this: to handle your peak season returns effectively, it’s vital that you identify those dates you think will generate the most returns for your business.
How to get ready for peak season returns
So, now that you’ve seen what peak season returns are, why they matter, and the key dates that generate returns, let’s look at what action you can take to make sure you're in the best possible position to handle returns throughout your peak season(s).
Our team has provided their top tips below.
Create a process for returns
You’d be surprised at how many brands don’t have a systematic, documented process for assessing and processing returns. But you won’t be surprised by the huge amount of difference having a documented process makes!
So, create a solid returns process that is well thought-out, and based on real-world data.
Set KPIs for your returns team
It’s not enough to simply have a returns process in place. You should also look to continually make it better by setting KPIs for those staff who are responsible for handling returns. As an example, these KPIs could cover the following areas:
Return intake – how quickly and accurately are returns processed?
Quality control and restocking – how well are returns assessed when they're received? How are they then processed and restocked into inventory, or disposed of?
Peak times - monitor the number and type of returns throughout each month and use this data to refine your returns staffing/processes.
Make returns as easy as possible for your customers
Set up an online portal to allow customers to request a return – they don’t want to be sitting on hold on a phone for ages!
Likewise, include pre-completed return shipping labels in each of your product packages. In other words, just make it easy for your customers to process and send returns!
Provide a variety of returns options
It's important to make your returns as easy as possible. Offering a variety of return options helps here.
Customers' expectations are changing. No longer is it enough to simply offer a return shipping label. Where possible, you should try and offer other returns options such as the opportunity to return items in store (if you have brick and mortar stores), or provide drop-off points for customers to use (many couriers now offer this as a service).
Limit returns caused by late deliveries
While you want to offer as many returns options as possible, there’s one important thing to consider when it comes to peak season returns – late deliveries.
Where possible, you should include cut-off dates on product descriptions (for example, to receive this product by Christmas, you need to order by this date).
To calculate your cut-off dates, you should be speaking to your courier on a regular basis.
If you’re particularly concerned about having to deal with returns as a result of late deliveries, you should add some additional ‘buffer’ days to the cut-off dates provided by your couriers.
As you can see, there’s a lot that goes into creating an efficient and effective returns operation.
But get it right and your brand will definitely benefit!