I love Christmas! Now before you start to think, Oh God, here’s another one of those strange breed of people who buy all of their presents in June and gloats smugly on Facebook….. I’m not that bad! For me the festive period begins in earnest on Bonfire Night, the smell of chestnuts, mulled wine and fireworks are the catalyst for me getting excited about Christmas.
For four years, I spent countless hours writing advice and best practice tips for retailers to deliver their products to consumers at Christmas. The expression “planning for peak” surpassed only by the number of times I’ve used “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”! But I’ll admit, I was so focused on“delivering Christmas” that I gave very little thought to what happened to returns at Christmas, so I’m going to rectify that now! This is my first forray into the world of returns, and for this post we will be focusing on last minute tips for peak.
The latest predictions from industry experts claim that this year’s Christmas peak will begin earlier than ever. It seems the Christmas period is no longer characterised by mega spikes of frantic activity such as Black Friday and Boxing Day, instead there’s an expectation that retailers will run discounts and promotions through the whole of November and December.
Each year Christmas peak in the UK seems to grow at an unprecedented rate, but we all know, it’s not just about securing that all important sale. The returns experience can make or break consumers’ opinions and future loyalty.
A combination of the impulsive shopping habits we see on Black Friday teamed with a lack of confidence for many of us purchasing gifts, means that last year alone it was estimated that by mid-December £600m of products had been returned to the retailer.
From our own research we know that less than half of the brands we measured advertised an extended returns policy over the festive period, and only 16% of these allowed returns up until the end of January 2016.
According to the latest figures from the National Retail Federation, a whopping three quarters of shoppers check a retailer’s returns policy at Christmas before making a purchase. So with less than a month to go, I decided to reach out to some of our partners here at ReBOUND to discover their top tips for retailers this peak...
Graham Best, CEO at ReBOUND
"It’s not just about the sale: Returns can make or break your Christmas sales performance."
Here at ReBOUND we believe that providing a flexible and convenient returns policy is fundamental to driving customer satisfaction and repeat business. We have four tips not one!
1. Make sure your returns policy is front and centre. With the floods of new customers likely to hit your site, remove the barriers to purchase by clearly displaying their refund options.
2. Smooth the load by offering as many returns options as possible, with the carrier network under strain, it’s crucial to ensure you have enough options to satisfy consumer demand.
3. Incentivise shoppers to exchange rather than refund, or aim to refund quicker as the sooner the shopper gets their money back, the sooner they can re-invest in another great deal you can offer them instead.
4. Spot trends in items that are being returned – question whether there is a reason the same pair of jeans are being sent back? Could it be a fitting or sizing issue or a common fault?
Andrew Starkey, Head of eLogistics, IMRG
“How to think about Returns over the Christmas Period”
I guess one of the major problems when planning for peak is knowing exactly what people will buy and having enough of the right product on hand. One way to second guess this is to make sure you can re-sell the products that people are choosing already – returns.
Usually people will send something back for reasons unrelated to product popularity (wrong size, colour etc) but just because it’s wrong for them doesn’t mean it will be wrong for the next customer. So being able to ‘fast track’ returns of ‘fast movers’ is a good way of maximising sales and optimising inventory.
Use returns portals to allow customers to tell you in advance what they are sending back and why, and you can anticipate when you will get them and how fast you can re-sell and re-dispatch them. It also means you have a fighting chance of getting peak returns back out while the peak is still on rather than having loads of redundant stock for the post peak clear out.
Andrew Hill, Sales Director at Sorted
“How to avoid a delivery nightmare before Christmas”
One of the best ways you can avoid a nightmare before, during and after Christmas is to spread delivery across a range of carriers and avoid over-reliance on one delivery company alone. The threat of strike action and extreme weather are just two things that can impact carrier performance, so retailers need to ensure their tech allows them to flex fulfilment accordingly.
Another key Christmas winner is customer convenience. Prescribing delivery options isn’t acceptable anymore. If your customer wants their parcel delivered to the office, or the pub, or the neighbour – do it. If they want it delivered within a half an hour time slot – do it. Consumer expectations are higher than ever before, so retailers need to be able to meet and exceed these.
In terms of a last minute tip, get plenty sleep! Working 24/7 might seem like the way to get everything done as peak hits, but consider how your productivity drops when you’re deprived of rest.
Mike Richmond, Chief Commercial Officer, Doddle
“Peak-proofing your customer experience”
One of the areas we have been working with retailers on is how to safeguard the experience for customers using click and collect services. There are a few options for managing in-store volumes that ideally work best in combination.
Improving operations to be more efficient
Many retailers still using manual processes to store and locate parcels could alleviate peak stress by using a technology solution to allow accurate and reliable storage and sortation of click and collect orders. To avoid pandemonium in the stock room, simple technology that can be used by teams intuitively and with minimal training can drastically reduce key metrics such as the time it takes to store a parcel, or to locate a customer’s parcel.
Ensure accurate and clear communication
As ever, setting customer expectations and being clear in all communications goes a long way in terms of managing peak pressure. Making delivery and return info easy to find on your website and keeping customers informed of any changes to delivery or refund windows and service issues along the way, mitigates some of the pain caused by unmet customer expectations.
Locations, locations, locations
Recent research we conducted of multi-channel retailers found that as many as 2/3 of those who don’t offer third party PUDO locations for click & collect have less than 100 stores. Channelling all your peak click & collect volumes through fewer than 100 stores will cause headaches for everyone and likely impact customer experience and loyalty. Adding more third-party locations and/or enabling more of a retailer’s own stores to process collections and returns helps spread the load to maintain a great customer experience at peak.
And that’s a wrap! We can’t wait to see how Christmas peak shapes up, if you want to have a chat about how we can help improve your returns strategy - get in touch!