The Day After: Many Happy Returns

Lena West

Updated · Dec 26, 2006

Article courtesy of

First there was Black Friday. Now that we’ve entered the Internet age, there’s Cyber Monday. But online retailers should also be prepared for Dec. 26 and the lingering days before the New Year. For many, the week after Christmas will be time to take stock of all the leftover merchandise they want to make disappear. And, just as people will be trolling the corridors of the local mall, they’ll also be clicking and exchanging online.

No online retailer wants to process returns and certainly the week after Christmas can try the patience of saints. However, there are opportunities to leverage in every situation — including when Aunt Rita decides she wants to exchange her blender for an MP3 player. So, what can Web shop owners do to make the most of the final days of December?

Offer Deals Not Just Returns
If you’re going to put merchandise on sale, hold a few popular items to the side and instead of marking down the price, see if any one doing a return would be willing to make a deal. For example, if someone wants to return a $50 item and you were going to mark a $75 item down for clearance, see if the returning customer would like to make a deal for an item that will cost about the same but would, instead, be something they really want.

Manage Web Site Real Estate
Make sure that any products that are on clearance, marked down or on close out pricing, are up front and center. Bargain hunters have a short attention span; capture their eyes and interest with bold letters and easily identifiable graphics like gift boxes or sale tags.

Many e-tailers make the mistake of burying the link to sale items deep within the site. Without offending shoppers with unnecessary bells and whistles, you can tactfully draw attention to sale items. For an example, visit, it uses an appropriate right design and layout formula.

Be Support Savvy
If shoppers do indeed want to process returns, make it easy. Put your return policy and a link to your online return processing area in a location that’s easy to see and access. Make sure your seasonal support representatives are cordial and patient. Many people returning items are not the original purchasers so this is a prime opportunity to display your company’s top notch, hassle-free customer service. Consider returns and exchanges as an opportunity to extend your marketing arm as opposed to an abrupt interruption in your supply chain.

“The exchange/return interaction can be an opportunity to win new customers or to move merchandise that has been languishing in inventory. In terms of the branding context, many times the return is the first human interaction they have with the company and this is where the rubber meets the road. If your brand promise doesn’t deliver, you’ve done serious damage to your brand,” says Rocky Cipriano, President of Insight Marketing, a New York-based marketing and branding consultancy.

Be Flexible
This is not the time of year to militantly enforce your return policy. If someone can’t find the receipt or order number and they have the purchaser’s name, make sure your virtual point of sale system is set up to make it easy for customer service representatives to look up orders using different order-specific data (i.e. purchaser’s phone number, shipping address, etc.) to process returns for customers.

Keep It Simple
Decrease the time your customers spend preparing a return. Get rid of complicated forms and instructions. Keep your toll-free customer service number visible at all times on every page of your Web site. And, by all means, if you’re going to outsource support, make sure your customers will feel comfortable with the staff, don’t just sign up a company without testing it out.

Leverage Technology
Consider using a Web-based chat application or an ‘immediate call back’ service to facilitate answering quick questions about sales and exchanges. Visitors are more apt to buy if they can get quick answers from a live person.

Another good idea is to use auto-responders or a support system to process e-mails sent for returns, exchanges and sale items. Let them know that you have received their communication, assign them a customer number and give them a firm time as to when they can expect to hear from you — and stick to it.

Measure & Monitor
Keep a close track on your holiday metrics, especially sales vs. returns. You’ll want to know what items are profitable to stock and which cost more to sell.

Learn what percentage of your visitors are converting, those shoppers who actually move from browsing to buying. This information is critical as you make your way through more and more holiday seasons.

If you notice that an item is being returned often, you might want to test drive it yourself for quality and craftsmanship. If a loser product is costing you time in processing returns, it might be time to clear that product out of your inventory. But, you can’t and won’t know any of this if you’re not measuring or monitoring.

Lena L. West is the CEO of xynoMedia Technology, a company that helps high-growth companies use technology to do more so they can earn more.

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