3 Best Practices for an Outstanding Post-Holiday Returns Season

Let’s be honest. The post-holiday rush of in-store returns isn’t exactly a joy. Customers dread the long wait, and associates feel harried and stressed as they attempt to please everyone and keep the line moving.

Knowing the onslaught is coming, it’s important for retailers to focus on three important goals:

  • Making the process easy on customers and employees;
  • Keeping the scene orderly and efficient; and
  • Whenever possible, saving the sale.

If your associates are well prepared, your policy is clear, and you’ve fine-tuned the process, you won’t just ensure smooth sailing. You’ll give existing customers another reason to love you, and new customers a reason to visit you again.

Here are three best practices for bringing order (and perhaps even happiness!) to the post-holiday returns season.

1. Leave No Room for Confusion or Doubt

Last year, we released our Omni-Returns Experience Report based on our study of 25 leading retailers’ buy online, return in store practices (we’ll discuss omnichannel returns in an upcoming post). Across the board, we found that customers had a bit of trouble locating the in-store return area; on average, they took over a minute to locate it.

Clear signage is essential, both for directing traffic and for managing customers’ expectations before they reach the counter.

Your returns policy should be spelled out on the wall behind the counter, and perhaps even on posts at the front of the line. Make clear what customers should expect with a receipt or without. Ideally, if a receipt is present, customers should be issued refunds on their terms. Customers without a receipt should receive a store credit in lieu of cash.

Of course, you’re free to make exceptions to your returns policy on behalf of loyal customers. In fact, in some cases, it might be a good move. But all customers, regardless of their spending history, should have the same expectation when they enter the returns line.

2. Train Associates for Distinct Roles

Associates in charge of processing returns and exchanges should be well versed when it comes to policies and procedures. But your associates’ demeanor is just as essential, if not more so, to the success of the interaction.

No matter how prominently your return policy is posted on the wall behind them, your employees will likely be asked the same question 50 times a day. It’s important they answer with the same cheer and courtesy each time. Brand consistency is important to existing customers (even, or especially, at times like this). And first impressions have the power to delight new customers or drive them away for good.

Suggestive selling should also be encouraged, but not at the return counter. Customers who reach the front of the line want associates to focus on the task at hand. It’s better to try to save the sale as customers enter the store. Train your sales floor associates to intercept shoppers before they get in line, determine the reason for the return, and make helpful suggestions.

3. Keep Things Moving Like Clockwork

When we conduct mystery shops that focus on returns, we ask our shoppers questions related to the complexity of the process. Does the process require additional staff to complete? Does it require additional forms or paperwork?

In other words, is your customer being hassled just so the brand can complete the task?

To ensure a quick, no-hassle return experience, consider forming queues for different types of transactions—returns, exchanges, receipt, no receipt. Keep the customer’s burden to a minimum. Make sure every associate is ready and able to process returns, and always have a manager on hand to pull unhappy customers aside and resolve thorny issues that threaten to hold up the line.

Dazzle Them Now, and Reap the Rewards in 2017

This hectic season of gift giving, gift receiving, and gift returning presents a great opportunity—not only to distinguish your brand through service performance, but also to connect emotionally with existing and new customers.

Customers don’t enter stores anticipating an enjoyable return experience. But they can leave feeling good about your brand. Showing them you respect their time and value their presence is a no-fail way to make their day.