A better way to manage return season with personalization and intelligent appointments

The 2018 holiday season holds a lot of promise for retailers. According to Deloitte’s annual holiday forecast, everyone from discount brands and big box stores to purveyors of luxury goods is expected to ring up more than $1.10 trillion sales, with about $134 billion of that driven by e-commerce purchases. But all that holiday cheer comes with a sobering dark spot—the high price of returns. Americans returned $260 billion in merchandise post-holiday in 2016, that number swelled to about $400 billion in 2017 and all indicators suggest it will continue to rise.

The total cost isn’t the only concern. A frustrating return process can deter consumers from making future sales. The National Retail Foundation’s 2017 survey details consumer complaints and demands about the entire holiday cycle. They found that 14% reported a difficult return process. Of those who experienced friction during returns, 64% said they would be hesitant to shop at that retailer ever again.

And those numbers add up quickly, especially for omnichannel merchants because return rates typically hover around 30% for merchandise that’s bought online. Clothing returns can be closer to 40% during the holiday season.

There is a way to mitigate those high revenue losses and respond to consumer demands. Retailers can lay a strong foundation and demonstrate exceptionalism during return season, smooth the process for employees, and create additional revenue opportunities through more personalized offerings, including appointment scheduling.

Engageware’s comprehensive research, “What Buyers Want: The State of the B2C Buyer Experience,” found that 83% of respondents indicate that they are either likely or very likely to schedule an appointment with a company they may buy from—and that’s any time of the year. Personalization and convenience become even more essential this time of year when consumers have even tighter schedules and less patience. Providing the ability to make appointments for returns or even product demo sessions, is a game-changer for retailers during the return cycle. Here’s how.

Facilitate the return process

Retailers, including big box stores and chains that sell durable goods or electronics, can ease the confusion of the season with Intelligent Appointment Scheduling. If the consumer is offered the opportunity to book a time slot online when it’s most convenient for them, a positive experience can be fostered before they even enter the store—providing them with a feeling like they are in control of the process. It will also ease the burden on staff by routing appointments to the right department or team and helping managers to schedule more efficiently. The result will be a reduction in long lines, more efficient returns and happier customers.

Curb returns for big box retailers

What if you had the opportunity to connect with consumers at the moment they most needed guidance, thereby preventing returns? Recipients don’t always understand how to use high-tech gifts or even be aware of the full functionality or value of the gifts they receive.

One way to help those on the fence become enthusiastic adopters is to offer an option at the time of purchase, providing consumers the ability to connect with customer service or product specialists via phone or in-person. A 15- to 30-minute appointment can be used to demonstrate basic product-installation or setup along with value-added features. In addition, some retailers have started holding classes that promote interaction and instruction, build brand loyalty and ultimately offer shared community experiences based on common interests. It’s easy to see how big box and electronics retailers can adopt this model to host group training on popular gifts this season including cameras, drones or lifestyle products. Not only will it help curb returns, but once consumers embrace their gifts, they are likely to make additional purchases to support their new hobby.

Transform clothing misses into repeat business

Gifting clothes is tough. Return rates for clothing are typically high even when consumer make purchases for themselves, and those rates rise steeply during the holidays. One way to promote exchanges over returns is to add services that enable gift recipients to schedule appointments to come in for a fitting or personal shopping experience. What starts out as a one-time, add-on service to compliment a gift purchase, provides the retailer with an important opportunity to develop a personal relationship with the consumer and encourage repeat visits and purchases that are based on consumer style and preferences.

Whatever your retail model, don’t leave customers out in the cold this winter. Warm up the post-holiday rush with in-store personalization options that curb returns and encourage repeat sales well into the new year.

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