The annual peak shopping season is here again. Retailers are prepping for Black Friday and Cyber Monday (BFCM). While it’s exciting to see high sales numbers, it’s inevitable that the flurry will bring with it an uptick in returns. And this is going to be problematic for the underprepared merchant. But with a bit of reframing and deeper understanding, it’s possible to convert returns into new revenue opportunities.

We've put together 3 pointers that you can integrate into your returns process, without having to learn them the hard way.

1. Study your return reasons and types of returns

Use data on types of returns to optimize your product portfolio and processes
Use data on types of returns to optimize your product portfolio and processes

Your existing customers are your ultimate source of information. By looking into their return reasons and types of returns, you’ll be able to identify the root cause of each request and optimize your product portfolio—and by extension, your return processes—significantly.

For instance, if a particular item is triggering repeated returns for the same reason—e.g. “Not what I expected”—that could call for a check on the presentation of the product. Such scenarios could involve inadequate descriptions or even errors in the product images.

If a certain type or category of product is being returned consistently—and in certain cases, for the same reason—that should flag a check on quality control of the item. There could be an opportunity to upgrade the design of the product or alert customers to quirky product features they may mistake for faulty design.

The BFCM shopping period could produce a big enough data sample to reveal short-term or holiday season consumer trends. This data could be used for plotting everything from pre-purchase strategies—e.g. sales events—to returns management. For example, you might have Automizely Marketing integrated with your eCommerce platform. With its CRM tools, you might find that a majority of your BFCM customers are Gen Y ladies shopping (and returning goods) on their mobile phones. These analytics would urge you to look at how you can run customized campaigns and target them specifically, while ensuring that your shop interface and returns portal are efficient and adaptive on mobile.

When your business pays attention to feedback and customer habits, and uses that information to improve the returns management system, the customer experience is leveled up and you begin collecting even more meaningful and helpful data. That information fuels customer loyalty and revenue. This is supported by research that says data-enhanced B2B and B2C strategies can enable a business to grow by at least 15%.

2. Consider the possibility of exchanges and saved revenue

Consider the return reasons that would qualify for exchanges or refunds
Consider the return reasons that would qualify for exchanges or refunds

Example data in the first point can also be used to better understand the financial impact of returns on your business. You’ll be pushed to consider your thresholds. What return reasons would qualify for exchanges, or refunds?

Setting filters at the start of your returns process could save time and money and streamline steps. The most straightforward could be automated refunds, wherein the customer keeps or disposes of their order. Another solution could be exchanges at approximately equal value, per your store catalog. In these two scenarios, the former is primarily cost- and time-saving for your business and your customer, while the latter turns a dead-end transaction into one that also brings relief and added value to your brand.

A successful exchange—in the form of a similar product, or through discounts or coupons—is able to turn a potential loss into new business opportunities. As revenue is recovered, and your post-purchase experience is enhanced, the customer leaves with a good impression and confidence that future purchases with your business will go smoothly too.

3. Check your average resolution time and refunds by region

Use data on average resolution time and refunds by region to reduce your returns rate
Use data on average resolution time and refunds by region to reduce your returns rate

Once a return is requested, it’s in both your and your customers’ best interests to act quickly. This is supported by a study that has found that 77% of customers would rate customer service highly if their time was valued.

In the returns cycle, the data points for average resolution time and refunds by region, can help lay out steps to help reduce your returns rate, and increase your customer lifetime value. For instance, longer drawn-out cases can lead to the implementation of an optimum resolution time. This goal can then cascade down to exchange and automated refund rules. In another instance, if a high number of requests seem to be logged in a particular area, a dedicated team may be allocated to servicing the flow of requests—with the aim to lessen or stem the flow, after which the resource is assigned elsewhere.

We know that running a business is tough, and finding extra time to run analytics reports is next to impossible. That’s why you should equip your business with programs like AfterShip Returns Center, to parse data into actionable insights. The Returns Center Analytics Dashboard can show you your total returns requested, rates of exchanges, and returns values by time window. This information can help you optimize returns management and regain revenue. React and implement accordingly, so that your customers leave with confidence in your business and increased loyalty to your brand. They leave with something good to shout about and are likely to return to spend again.

Allow your data to work for you. Find out how you can establish your returns process, or give it the boost it needs before the peak shopping season arrives.