Getting on top of your returns during Peak
Getting on top of your returns during Peak
Every eCommerce retailer and marketplace merchant wants to make the most of ‘Peak’: the busy annual sales period leading up to Christmas encompassing Black Friday and the Cyber Weekend. As every experienced watcher of seasonal online sales will attest, two trends are inevitable: Peak gets bigger every year and goes on for longer.
All retailers will already be focussed on increasing sell-through and conversion, finding customers and fulfilling those sales, to make the most of this feeding frenzy. (The black in Black Friday denotes its importance as an industry term that would see many retailers go into ‘the black’ and become profitable for the first time in the year during November.)
This year Black Friday falls on November 29th. Black Friday has expanded into the Cyber Weekend with Cyber Monday now becoming almost as big as the day after USA Thanksgiving. Black Friday has long been an American retail tradition which introduced deep discounting in a bid to turbo charge Christmas sales, but it has now become part of the global eCommerce calendar.
With Peak just around the corner, it’s also worth taking one final review of your returns operation while it isn’t too late to make course changes. That’s good practice each and every year, but in 2019 the need is keener with a possible ‘Hard Brexit’ on the horizon.
What can you learn from 2018?
The best predictor of the returns trends that will impact your business specifically is your past experience. What did you learn between November 2018 until the end of January this year? Consider the successful aspects and also where there was room for improvement.
And, if you weren’t operating in 2018, take a look at your general sales trends and make informed predictions of where you might need to apply resources and improvements as returns volumes surge.
And, right now, schedule a meeting with your team, or make a date in your own diary, to look back in early in February 2020, while the Christmas returns experience is still fresh in your mind, and plan for Peak 2020.
Key dates that will see surges in returns
All retailers will see a surge in returns in the week or fortnight after the Cyber Weekend. Prepare with greater capacity in the week beginning 2nd December as shoppers stockpile gifts for family and friends, and maybe channel that ‘serial returner’ habit as they examine the products before wrapping them or sending them back.
Get ready for another surge in January that will last even longer. Dubbed in 2020 as “Takeback Thursday” by Royal Mail in their Delivery Matters report, the biggest single day for sending returns will be the first proper working day after the holiday: 3rd of January. This day opens the floodgates for a whole month of returns.
December will be busy but Cyber Weekend sees a returns surge that dies down reasonably quickly. Royal Mail reports that January is the month of the year that sees the most returns to online retailers. So during Peak 2019 until early 2020, be prepared for sprints and marathons.
Post-Peak returns offer a different problem to their standard online counterparts
It is safe to assume that the vast majority of purchases made during Peak are gifts, especially the two weeks leading up to Christmas, and are often not accompanied with their original receipt. How do you plan on tackling returns without proof of purchase, and, given the plethora of marketplaces, whether they originated from your store. Even for exclusive items with clearer origins, Black Friday and Cyber Monday only highlight further the difficulty of deciphering a return item’s real or current value to complete its refund.
72% of Christmas shoppers will have the majority of their gifts purchased two weeks before Christmas, with 19% of those completely finishing their festive splurge before the end of November (YouGov Research). This means a vast majority of online purchases will be outside their legal 14 day cancellation period for free returns. If you are feeling festive, or want to highlight a generous returns policy to drive sales, you may consider extending your returns period to something more generous.
With the absence of a receipt and/or an expired returns period, the next logical step most returners will take is to attempt to return their items in store. ‘Buy online return in store’ – or BORIS as it is now known – is an increasingly more common phenomenon, and whilst a difficult public returns discussion can look bad for the retailer, however it’s a great chance to build customer loyalty. 92% of people will buy from you again if the returns process is easy and well-handled, and with it being in store, the customer service team will have an easier job guiding the customer to exchange, helping you keep hold of profits and potentially upsell too (ReadyCloud).
It’s worth re-briefing your customer services team on what to expect from Peak. The better they are informed with store policy on receipt issues, expired return days, valuing a refund, and exchanges, the smoother the customer experience and their continued loyalty. Finally, you may also want to consider increasing the customer services team’s capacity to deal with the higher volume of enquiries shortly after Peak periods.
Peak 2019 requires new thinking on international returns
The Christmas Peak is when eCommerce merchants want a bumper few months of stellar sales to round off a successful year. And whilst it looks like there is no real reason (yet) to be too worried, there may be some challenging trading conditions to deal with. Concerns surrounding Brexit will more keenly impact despatches and fulfilment rather than returns, but merchants should always be keeping a watching brief.
The bureaucracy and tariff obstacles that Brexit is likely to unearth, present reasons for why you might consider refunding your best or VIP customers the moment you can see their return is in transit. You might also want to consider leaving your goods abroad for resale or liquidation rather than repatriation, however it’s best to talk to your returns partners now to help negate any potential future problems. They have expertise that you can gain insight from that will help you navigate the choppy waters ahead more effectively.