Happy returns: Making it through the post-Christmas period unscathed

Happy returns Making it through the post-Christmas period
 
When it comes to Christmas, few place more importance in present-giving than us Brits. One study predicted the average shopper's spending total to be around the £500 mark in 2015, with a per-gift price of £36 - higher than anywhere else in Europe.
 
We do like buying things, then. Maybe a little too much, our credit card balances might suggest. That's not to say we get it right every time, though. A survey conducted around Christmas 2014 found that one third of people receive at least one present they don't like each year, with an average value of £155. The same research estimated that, in total, £2.6 billion is spent on unwanted gifts; that's more than the GDP of Greenland!
 
It's no surprise, then, that it's in January when refund and exchange requests peak for online retailers. The way in which you deal with this post-Christmas wave of returns could be the difference between survival and disaster for the rest of the year. Hopefully the information below will help.
 

Be prepared

It might be a manic time of year in the retail world, but most business owners look forward to December; everyone's in the spending spirit and sales, as a result, tend to be chalked up pretty quickly. That said, it's important to see beyond Christmas itself - you may sell a lot more toys and clothes in the build-up, but as the figures above show, you should also expect a lot to come back as well. Put simply, don't count your chickens! Adjust all forecasts accordingly to avoid disappointment.
 

Know your rights!

Most big-name retailers accept returns on things bought from their stores, providing of course the items remain in original packaging, in brand new condition, and that you have proof of purchase (a receipt). We say "most" and not "all" because despite common belief, no business is legally required to offer refunds or exchanges on products unless they're faulty, not as described or unfit for purpose.
 
The 2014 Consumer Contracts Regulations blurred the lines a little for online traders, by giving consumers the right to "cancel" goods orders up to 14 days after receipt. They must inform of their intention to cancel within this period, and then return the item during the following two weeks. Once again, though, many stores will choose to give buyers longer than legally required to make a decision - especially around Christmas, and for good reason.
 

Your choice matters

You might assume that by not giving shoppers the opportunity to send their unwanted items back - or at least not making it easy to do so - you'll be saving money on refunds and time on exchanges. You're kind of right: you will have fewer returns to deal with. On the other hand, though, you'll probably sell less to begin with.
 
Shoppers value the right to return the products they buy, and not having a clear and reasonable policy on the matter will be enough to put some off - especially when most of your competitors will have it covered. This is particularly important online, where it's not possible to see, touch and try products before handing money over; nobody wants to waste their hard-earned cash!
 
If anything, you should see your returns policy as an opportunity to get one up on your competitors. Extend your accepting period beyond those of your peers and you'll be reassuring shoppers that they can trust you and your products. Once again, this is a particularly good idea around Christmas as many people choose to get their shopping out of the way before December even begins.
 

Returns tips for small businesses

There are ways to minimise the pain of post-Christmas returns, and even to learn from them each year.
 
Keep temps on - If you chose to expand the workforce slightly to deal with the end-of-year excitement, it might be worth keeping some of the temporary staff on until the end of January when everything quietens down again. Not only will there be the actual returns to process, people will be re-ordering other products and the phones will be hot with inquisitive callers asking about your policies.
 
Provide returns info in advance - The clearer you make your returns policy, the less hassle you'll experience during January. Send out details of the process with everything you sell, especially near Christmas. You may even want to include a form ready for the buyer to complete.
 
Learn from your returns - As well as taking the relevant order and personal details, your returns forms should ask shoppers their reasons for sending items back. If you find that the same item of clothing is coming back regularly because it didn't fit as expected, it may be worth reassessing the sizing guide, or even speaking to the supplier.
 
Offer gift receipts! - Gifts are rarely returned by the people who originally bought them, and this can cause problems as the order will be linked to the buyer's account. Give an option to shoppers to pass on the return rights to someone else when they're buying gifts, without having to share the price.
 
All that considered, you should be ready to weather the post-Christmas refund storm this year and well into the future.
Many happy returns!
 

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