How to Make Holiday Returns a Cakewalk

A round of applause is in order – you’ve made it through the holiday season! But it’s not over quite yet. We hope you’re hungry for a little more hustle and bustle because now it’s the season of the (often dreaded) holiday returns and exchanges. Don’t worry – we’ve got a few tips to help make returns and exchanges a piece of cake!

Though the new year marks the end of the holiday shopping season, the most wonderful (and busiest) time of year isn’t over just yet for eCommerce brands. Just when it seems like your day-to-day is resuming to a more “business as usual” pace, here comes the influx of gift returns and exchanges.

While every brand – and shopper – hopes that the gifts they purchased during the holiday shopping season are perfect the first time around, unfortunately (for both businesses and purchasers), this isn’t always the case. Holiday gift returns and exchanges are a much bigger phenomenon than you might expect. In fact, 35% of Americans will return a holiday gift.

Shopping for someone else always involves some degree of risk, especially when it comes to guessing on things like sizing or preference. In other cases, sometimes the sender ships the wrong item, which is why it's always important to check; people make mistakes, and no brand is perfect. Other times, products are damaged during transport. The result of all these situations: returns or exchanges.

So when the holidays finally arrive, the sweater you bought grandpa may be a size too small (especially after all that fruitcake and egg nog!), or perhaps an item was damaged in transit. While no one wants to open a defective gift on Christmas day, there’s always the option to return and exchange!

To prepare for this influx of returns and re-orders, brands need to have a recipe for success prepared to avoid delays and unhappy customers.

Spatulas at the ready, everyone! From our team at CAKE, here’s our secret recipe for mastering holiday gift returns and exchanges.

Whip Up a Return and Exchange Policy Before the Holidays

There are a few things you’ll need to make clear to users straight away to avoid confusion or unhappy customers later down the line. Here are a few things you’ll want to cover:

  • Which products are returnable or exchangeable
  • The condition products need to be in to be eligible for returns or exchanges
  • How soon returns need to be made 
  • How to start a return (labels, packaging, post office, etc.)

We always recommend you touch up your return policy to accommodate holiday gift returns and exchanges before the holiday shopping season kicks off (before Black Friday and Cyber Monday).

Many shoppers actually begin purchasing gifts for the holidays as early as October. So, if these customers want to send back or exchange gifts following the December holidays, your normal 30-day return policy means their purchases are no longer eligible for returns or refunds.

To prevent unhappy or aggravated shoppers, you could consider extending your return period to 60 or even 90 days. This will build brand loyalty among shoppers for the next year! To promote repeat purchases and customer loyalty further, you could also include an incentive like free shipping or free returns, as well.

However you choose to adjust your return and exchange policy to accommodate the holiday season, you’ll want to make sure it is accessible to customers. Your return policy needs to be transparent and visible to shoppers. Consider implementing a banner on your site’s homepage or at checkout that clearly displays your policy so shoppers don’t miss it. You could even send out an email blast to your subscribers following the holidays reminding them of your returns and exchanges policy.

Because ⅔ of shoppers will check a return policy before making a purchase, it's important to be upfront with your customers about your expectations. While no baker wants to admit how much sugar is in their Christmas cookies, honesty and transparency are key to building trust with consumers.

Offer an Alternative to Refunds 

After all those pricey holiday purchases, customers will certainly be concerned about getting their money back should they need to return a gift. To accommodate this customer concern, consider optimizing your refund process to get customers their money back as quickly as possible (within 10 business days is advisable).

While giving customers a full refund for their return is a good way to incentivize their loyalty, this is a momentary loss for your business. Instead of just offering shoppers their money back, sprinkle in some alternatives like exchanges, store credit, or even an e-gift card. This way, you’re encouraging users to replace the returned item with another product from your store instead of taking their business elsewhere. Not only does this encourage customers to come back and shop around, but it also gives your brand a second chance to impress!

With store credit and e-gift cards, oftentimes shoppers will replace their returned item with one that isn’t fully covered by their refund. After all, it’s difficult to find items that are the exact same price. So this just means that customers will actually end up spending more the second time around. While they’ll pay the majority of the cost with their credit or gift card, shoppers will need to cover the rest of the expense out of pocket.

Though this may seem like you’re taking advantage of your shoppers, really, you’re giving them another opportunity to find something else they (or the recipient) will really love. One thing is for sure, offering alternatives to refunds encourages customers to continue to shop within your store, thereby earning their loyalty.

Protect Your Business from Extortion

While the holiday shopping season is all about spreading joy and cheer, there are still those who will take advantage of brands and are willing to be a bit dishonest to do so. That’s why it's important you state the condition required for a product to be eligible for returns in addition to examining the returned item before submitting a refund or exchange.

Though this may seem time-consuming or unrealistic for larger brands, its crucial to take the time to check that all returned products are not damaged and are in the same condition that they were sold in. Because damaged products cannot be resold, it’s important to protect your business from losses by refusing to refund shoppers who attempt to return impaired items (unless they were damaged on arrival).

While this can lead to a negative review or two from a frustrated customer who tried to take advantage of your brand, there are ways you can mitigate and diffuse the situation. When a customer begins the returns and exchange process online (or over the phone), make sure the customer electronically (or verbally) agrees that the item is in proper condition. By simply checking a box or confirming with a customer service agent, this customer is consenting to your returns policy requirements and providing documented proof that can be leveraged later on if needed.

Make It a Piece of Cake for Customers to Return and Exchange

While returns and exchanges are certainly no picnic for brands, they’re equally as tense for customers. When customers struggle to make a return online or if they have questions about your policy, the first thing they will do is call customer service, which is notoriously slow during the holidays. But this can be avoided. To avoid congestion on your customer care lines, you’ll want to make it easy for your shoppers to return a product.

First things first: Consider your packaging. Does your packaging make it easy for customers to return items? Some things you may want to include in your packaging are pre-printed return labels, a resealable envelope, and directions on how to make a return.

Another thing to note is that you don’t want to overcomplicate your return and exchange process. Believe it or not, some of the best-tasting sweets have the simplest ingredients. Take a yellow cake for example; just eggs, flour, butter, sugar, a little vanilla if you like, and...voilà!

To ensure your return process is both practical and pleasant, keep it short and sweet. We recommend just a few easy steps (three to four) to avoid confusion and frustrated customers. Return processes should be user-friendly, as it’s hassle enough to have to make a return in the first place. The simpler your steps, the happier your customers.

Take a Little Off Your Customers’ Plates With Tracking Features

To make returns and exchanges even easier on your customers, you should provide features that make the process as stress-free as possible. One of these to consider is tracking. This allows customers to make sure their return is delivered successfully.

Follow up with customers once their order is en route and returned. Always be sure to send them an email or SMS alerting them that their package has been received, along with a refund receipt. Communication and transparency – especially regarding a return and the processing of a refund – are important in earning loyalty.

Tracking features and delivery notifications ease customer concerns, so they can sit by the fire and enjoy a relaxing cup of hot cocoa without having to worry about their return and refund. Shoppers will also remember this later, so that next year they are more likely to return to your brand.

Customer Support

Last but not least, boosting your customer support following the holidays is a must. While you can follow all these steps perfectly and whip up a seamless plan for gift returns and exchanges, your shoppers may still have questions and need a little help navigating the return process.

Develop an FAQ page (if you don’t have one already) for customers to refer to. Include some FAQs about your return policy. This way, shoppers may consult this page in an attempt to avoid waiting for a customer service operator. You could also implement a chatbot feature to help customers complete their returns and exchanges online.

CAKE Makes Holiday Returns and Exchanges Sweet!

Now that you’ve got your holiday gift returns and exchanges covered, let us handle the rest. Leave it to our experts to whip up a strategy that covers all your marketing needs! To learn more about our services, contact CakeCommerce.