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4 Tips To Deal With Post-Holiday Returns


Minyang Jiang


‘Tis the season for increased selling opportunities, strong sales, and an abundance of customers. Unfortunately, it’s also the season of post-holiday returns. According to Bargainista, one in three people returned at least one gift last year. On top of this, the National Retail Federation reported that total annual returns will reach $260.5 billion in 2015 — or 8% of total retail sales — with 3.5% of the industry’s total returns expected to be fraudulent. Keeping both these points in mind, what’s a retailer to do?

In a perfect world, your customers will be 100% satisfied with all purchases made and the people who they may have purchased gifts for will be, as well. And while we’re speaking of a perfect world, let’s assume you won’t have any fraudulent purchases made at your store, either. But we don’t live in a perfect world, do we? As a result, it’s up to you to identify how you want to handle the inevitable rush of post-holiday returns. To help, consider these tips.

Tip #1: Kindness Rules…Even When Customers Think They Do 

When handling returns, it’s easy to get flustered and frustrated due to customers not getting “exactly” what they want. With this in mind, consider how your behavior influences their actions in every move you make and with every word you say.

By making it a store policy to use kindness in your actions and choice of words, you can help to influence customers in their own behaviors. And while not every customer is easily persuaded, training your employees to react with kindness can also help them keep their cool in difficult situations.

Speaking of which, consider a plan of attack in case difficult situations occur. An example of this may be when a customer demands a return on something that was clearly identified as non-returnable. What should you do? This leads us to tip number two.

Tip #2: Calmly & Clearly Identify Your Store Policy 

Stating the obvious — such as a clear return policy that your store has in place — is never fun for customers. And yet, this still remains a necessary step in dealing with customer returns, particularly those that are presented by difficult customers.

To start, politely acknowledge the situation as well as their disappointment/frustration/etc. By acknowledging that you have heard what they said, you are one step closer to getting to a resolution. Ignoring — or not clearly identifying that you understand what they expressed to you — can often take you a few steps backwards. This should be avoided whenever possible.

Next, calmly explain your store return policy. You do have one, right? By addressing this policy, you are simply sharing the terms of their purchase agreement with you. If the customer is not satisfied with your policy or was unaware of it, consider how you can still support them. A store credit is one option, though you have to consider if this makes sense for you. For most small business owners, offering a full cash or credit refund is typically not ideal. You need to have this expressed in your return policy so that customers can firmly understand this — even if they don’t like it.

Another tip? When a customer is holding up other customers from being served due to a return issue, create a plan within your store that removes them from the immediate situation among other consumers. This may mean inviting them to speak to a manager off to the side of your checkout area or asking if they can please step to the side so you can help them more comfortably. Your main goal? To diffuse the situation while also kindly supporting and acknowledging them. You also want to avoid other customers overhearing any heated discussions this may lead to.

Tip #3: Make Your Policy Front & Center Beginning Today (If You Haven’t Already)

Post-holiday, mid-holiday, or any day of the year, returns are a necessary evil of retail. But how you handle them doesn’t have to be torturous. Instead, strengthen your policy by making it front and center to your customers — even if you should have done this a while ago. There’s no time like the present, after all, so consider these tips to help your store return policy gain new life.

  • Post policies on receipts and have customers initial receipts as an acknowledgement of understanding your store policy. Even an abbreviated version of your policy is better than no version of your policy at all on receipts.
  • Clearly place an overview of your return-policy near your cash wrap or POS area so that it’s easily accessible to reference during your checkout procedure. Make sure all employees include this as part of their checkout process with customers.
  • In your policy identify that any refunds provided to the customer will only be offered in the same form of currency used for the purchase. For example, if the item was purchased with a store gift card, then you should issue a store gift card as their form of payment if applicable for return.
  • Identify the situations where store credits will be issued vs. a full refund, such as if a certain time-frame passes. You can also identify any vendors or products that may be excluded from returns entirely, as well.
  • Be clear on your store signage, receipts, and all other communication regarding the limit to when returns or exchanges are welcomed. 30 days is a fair time, though 14 is often more ideal for smaller store owners. It’s even okay to limit returns to 7 days if this makes the most sense for your business. As a small business owner, this choice is up to you.
  • If possible, consider offering gift receipts to customers to help avoid return issues due to gift giving. This is easier for all involved when purchases are intended to be given as a gift.
  • Consider any limitations to which products cannot be exchanged or returned at all, including if they were opened, damaged after purchase, or anything else. Also consider your local and state laws for this based on the unique product.

Tip #4: Be on Alert For Fraudulent Returns

Despite your best efforts in keeping legitimate customers calm and your staff cool and collected during post-holiday return season, there is still the chance you may encounter an attempt for a fraudulent purchase to be returned. If this does in fact happen, do you have a plan of attack?

Superior customer service is a great way to combat fraudulent returns, as a criminal attempting to make these does not want sharp, skilled customer care but instead hopes for a quick transaction that leaves them with your money. Keeping this in mind, train your team to demonstrate attentive customer service always, especially in situations when they may sense something is wrong.

Teach your staff to handle these situations the same way they would any other by asking for a receipt and even going as far as asking about their experience shopping in the store. Use these tactics to gain time as well, and have your staff member state that they need a manager to review the return request. At this time you should have your staff use a phone in the back room or away from the “customer” to call the police. Yes…the police. These are criminals, after all, and if you suspect or know 100% that an attempt for a fraudulent return is being made, that’s what you need to do.

The National Retail Federation recently shared results from a survey that identified that three in 10 (30%) of retailers surveyed said they have seen an increase in fraudulent purchases made with cash, while six in 10 (60.7%) have seen an increase in the use of gift card/merchandise credit return fraud. Knowing this, what are your policies for returns with cash and gift cards? Make sure this is addressed in your return policy procedures as well, to help you strengthen your approach when dealing with fraudulent returns.

A final tip? Be sure to be among the 85.2% of retailers surveyed who said they require identification when making a return without a receipt. It’s estimated that 10% of returns made without a receipt are fraudulent, so making receipts a must with return can help shave down your chance of fraudulent returns.

Fraudulent transactions and returns aside, remember that if you’re fortunate to be your own boss, consider one of the perks that comes with this role…which is breaking rules.

While this shouldn’t be your go-to solution, it has helped countless retailers in the past who are positioned with a customer that they just can’t seem to calm down or make satisfied. Does this mean taking back an item and giving a full refund, no questions asked? Absolutely not. But if you can meet a customer halfway by offering a store credit on a return with a unique circumstance, this may be something to consider.

Using the tips above, aim to make your post-holiday returns as seamless and easy as possible. And in the spirit of returns, consider this your reminder to strengthen your return policy if this is an issue your store just can’t seem to shake.