Have you ever heard business people working in retail and e-commerce refer to January as “Return-uary”? Perhaps it’s just a phrase that Jimmy, our operations manager, made up to tease me.
Regardless of whether people outside the ParcelBright office are using the phrase yet, one thing is for certain – January is a tremendous month for returns. Consumers switch focus to saving money, and unwanted gifts are sheepishly returned from whence they came. If you run an e-commerce business, this mountain of returns can be something of a nightmare. As well as leaving a sour taste in the mouth after the good sales made in the run up to Christmas, returns cost considerable sums of money to a business and busy your workforce with activities that don’t contribute to revenue.
Here is how to handle January returns in a way that will delight customers, who may be having their first interaction with your business when returning a gift.
The most important point to consider when facing a wave of order returns this January is to make it as easy and pleasant an experience for the customer as possible. Second only to the incredibly guilty feeling of insulting the gift giver, the most dreaded thing about returning a Christmas present to a store could well be facing the staff who you may expect to hinder your return in any way they can.
Instead of providing the miserable experience they are expecting, surprise and satisfy your potential customers by making the process of a return both simple and free. Don’t be mean, absorb restock charges where possible. If you even include return labels with online orders (perhaps using a service such as Collect+), all the better. Make sure all of your staff know how to handle returns – nothing is more annoying than being told you’ll have to wait for a manager to authorise a simple return. Customers are expecting an awful experience when returning a Christmas present to a store they might have never patroned before. It is your opportunity to prove them wrong and stand out as a business they can trust.
By winning over new customers in January with a seamless returns process, you earn a customer for the rest of the year. By holding your business to a high standard with regards to January returns, you can develop goodwill and positive word of mouth that wins new fans all year round. Think about businesses such as John Lewis. They’ve built a massively successful brand that is known for excellent customer service, including an unbeatable returns policy. Your business should do the same.
As well as winning the hearts of customers, January returns can be an excellent opportunity to succeed on harder targets such as building your customer mailing list, reaching more followers on social media, or earning higher customer satisfaction ratings.
When a customer reaches out in order to make a return, consider how much data about this customer you could reasonably ask to capture. Would they like to join your mailing list? Try to get enough data to reach out in future in a meaningful way.
Someone returning a video game to your online store, for example, might be a hot lead for future sales – you should ask them for their e-mail address. But would they rather hear about driving games or shooting games? Perhaps they’ll tell you. Their loved one purchased a video game for them for a reason, maybe this customer is an avid gamer – the perfect customer for your store. And of course, they are returning it for a reason too. Perhaps it’s something as simple as the video game was for the wrong console, or they have that game already. This example shows that even when a Christmas gift recipient is returning an item to your store, they could still be your ideal customer.
Ask customers if they would be willing to join your mailing list or hear about offers all year round. Give them flyers offering them an incentive if they follow you on social media. Tell customers about in-store events they might not have heard about otherwise. Take advantage of the fact that these customers are now in contact with your business.
Returning Christmas gifts is likely to be an experience that is full of doubt and worry for most consumers. If you enchant them with an ungrudging and helpful returns process, they may be more willing to stay in contact with you in future. They might just trust you more. Take January as an opportunity to excel at accepting returns. Doing this for the customer is an easy and relatively inexpensive way of winning their hearts and building long-term goodwill with increasingly disillusioned consumers.