How to minimise an onslaught of Christmas returns this January

  • Written by ZigZag founder Al Gerrie

As Christmas approaches, the importance of returns gets bigger and bigger for independent fashion retailers. While this time of year hopefully brings more sales, it also tends to cause a spike in the number of products returned to the store. Therefore, it’s essential for retailers to adopt a flexible, customer-centric approach to prepare for all possible outcomes, whether it’s a shopper purchasing multiple outfit options for the Christmas party to return all but one or parcels being damaged while in Santa’s sleigh. 

The festive season is often a make-or-break time for retailers of all shapes and sizes. However, it is especially critical for small businesses. The margins are tighter for companies operating one or two stores compared to big name brands with thousands of regular customers. From our recent research, we know that 84 per cent of shoppers check the returns policy before making a purchase and over half (53 per cent) have decided not to buy an item because they didn’t like the returns policy. So, the room for error with returns when you’re a small business is virtually non-existent.

First and foremost, communication with your customers is key. Establishing clear and easily accessible return policies on your website and social media platforms helps set expectations. Be transparent and make everything as visible as possible – don’t shy away from it. Clearly outline the returns window, conditions and any associated fees. A straightforward policy not only informs customers but also builds trust and demonstrates your commitment to the customer experience.

Similarly, leveraging technology is crucial for small businesses looking to streamline the returns process. Build a website that incorporates an intuitive and user-friendly returns portal. Ensure that customers can easily initiate returns, track the status of their return and receive timely updates. This will mean you spend less time handling the logistics of returns, allowing you to track stock and restock more quickly – freeing you up to drive more sales. 

For businesses selling on marketplace platforms like Trouva, maintaining a cohesive brand experience is crucial. Ensure that your product listings are accurate and provide comprehensive information. High-quality images, detailed descriptions and accurate sizing information can reduce the likelihood of customers receiving items that don’t meet their expectations.

We know that 45 per cent of UK shoppers buy multiple items with the intention of returning at least one; a phenomenon known as “wardrobing”. Ensuring consistent sizing will eliminate the number of wardrobers, and in turn, reduce the number of returns to help protect the bottom line. 

I’d also recommend implementing a post-purchase follow-up strategy. Personalised thank you emails or messages expressing gratitude for their holiday purchase go a long way in driving repeat purchase. Including helpful tips on product care and usage can also reduce the chances of returns due to misunderstandings or dissatisfaction.

Finally, there are now many more options than the traditional return that shoppers prefer and also help the retailer save the sale and retain the revenue. An impressive 83 per cent of shoppers said that they would be interested in a simple exchange solution and 57 per cent would be happy to accept a return to gift card. These alternatives to returns are growing in popularity with retailers and shoppers. Overall, offering convenience, flexibility and choice is the key to managing and driving lower return rates as well as fostering ongoing customer loyalty.

Al Gerrie founder and CEO for returns specialist ZigZag, which utilises the latest tech to transform the returns experience for global retailers;