The holiday season isn’t officially “over” until the last gifts have been returned.  And this year, according to a recent survey of 15,800 shoppers conducted by Oracle, 77% of consumers plan to return some of their gifts and nearly 20% expect to return more than half of the presents they receive during the holidays.

Beyond a hefty return forecast projected by the Oracle survey, research shows consumers are expecting retailers to make the return process convenient, with a variety of choices and flawless customer service.   Obviously, the experts say, the thought process behind purchasing gifts has shifted.

As gift-returning has grown, shoppers are more likely to go to stores that have generous return policies so the recipient can take back the gift if they choose, said Lars Perner, assistant professor of clinical marketing at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business. 

Today’s shoppers even think about returning the gifts themselves — before the gifts even get to the intended recipient. Knowing they can return a purchase allows shoppers to leave the store with a gift, and also provides a chance to buy something better if it comes along.  “They think, ‘Here’s a potential good deal … but if I can get something better, I reserve the right to exchange it,’” Perner said.

“Retailers need to seize the moment when shoppers return gifts. The traffic generated by holiday returns holds significant opportunity for retailers to build better customer profiles and generate new opportunities for engagement by personalizing the returns experience,” says Jeff Warren, Vice President of Retail Solutions Management, Oracle Retail. “Preparing for returns is a best practice, leveraging returns intelligence to inform product development and new customer acquisition strategies is next practice retail.”

The Reality of Returns

Not surprisingly, according to the survey results, Generation Z plans to return the most presents this year. This could have a lot to do with the fact that Gen Z consumers are teenagers and still in the growing process, and are incredibly picky with their interests.

And while returns are a fact of life for retailers, only a few have started to reimagine their returns process in an effort to improve customer satisfaction.  Tightening up the return process with a focus on customer satisfaction is a “must-do” for retailers serious about keeping their customers happy.  According to ReadyCloud Suite, 66% of buyers always check the return policy before making a purchase, and 80% of shoppers decided against purchasing if the process for returns is inconvenient.  Today’s customers know Amazon returns are hassle-free and won’t cost them time or money to ship back.  If you want more business, then you need to make sure your return and exchange policy is as easy as possible to understand and execute.

In-store Buying Holds Strong

Recent studies leading up to the 2019 holiday season have shown for many consumers, buying in-store is still the preferred way to shop.  This means if they return, it will also be in-store and retailers don’t have to worry about covering shipping costs for returned items.

As noted in the Oracle survey, when a customer visits a store to make a return, they come with a history and therefore present an opportunity, not an obstacle, for the retailer. Well-informed store associates are key to identifying the next best offers to save the sale or upsell. Having consumer data available to associates along with the availability of inventory and promotions is crucial to keeping the customer satisfied and walking out the door with something.

Once you sell a product to a customer, the last thing any retailer wants is to get that item back.  Now is your chance to polish up your customer service skills, and avoid refunds through creative selling, and these simple steps:

Be Understanding

Remember the return is not the issue.  The reason the customer wants to make the return is what matters. Most retailers focus on fixing what they perceive as the “problem,” and don’t spend any time caring for the person.  If you take some time to show understanding and concern for the customer, they will immediately feel like you care. 

Listen and Learn

Start the return process by listening to the customer. This gives them the opportunity to be heard and gives you the chance to really understand what it is that they need and want. Once the customer is finished speaking, follow up by asking any unanswered questions to establish the reason for the return. Why is the item being returned? What is wrong with the item? What result is the customer seeking? Once the reason for the return is known, you can offer solutions to the problem.

Offer Suggestions

Now that you have learned why the item is being returned, it’s time for you to suggest alternative products or solutions. Would the customer like a different style, color or size? Do you have a similar item in stock, or available from a vendor that would better serve the customer’s needs?  Is there a product better suited to the customers lifestyle or tastes in your store than the one being returned? If so, take some time and talk your customer through your suggestions. Make sure to mention the features and benefits of any new products you show, because this is your opportunity to close a new sale.  

Satisfaction Can’t Always Be Guaranteed

There are just times when no substitution will satisfy the customer, but that doesn’t mean the sale is totally lost.  If your store’s return policy states you must offer an in-store credit or a gift card instead of a cash refund, then you know you will eventually get the sale.  If you must provide a cash refund or credit card chargeback, then that’s okay.  If you’ve exhausted your return or upsell opportunities, but you still satisfy the customer, chances are that they will continue to shop with you again.

The best possible outcome on any return is an exchange or an upsale, but in the end, a satisfied customer is more important than an inflexible return policy.  Put customer experience and satisfaction before policy and procedures, and you’ll always have many happy returns!

Want to know more about how to handle the reality of returns, have questions about this article, or want to suggest a topic for me to cover in future blogs? I’d love to hear from you! Email me at today!

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