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6 Tips to Get Ahead of Black Friday Returns

Matt Blevins
Updated 10/06/20 7:02 PM

The weekend of Black Friday and Cyber Monday (BFCM) is a wonderful but hectic time in ecommerce.

In 2019, Black Friday in the U.S. brought in $7.4 billion with Cyber Monday adding an impressive $9.2 billion, according to Adobe Analytics. This represents an overall growth of nearly 24% compared to 2018.

But amid the excitement and rush of revenue is a glaring downside - returns.

Pitfall of Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Among our partner retailers, the Tuesday following the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales spike saw the second highest number of returns per retailer of any day in 2019. It was second only to December 26th.

Without the right systems and processes in place, brands can quickly become overwhelmed by the influx of returns that result from BFCM and carry on throughout the holiday season.

As a result, some companies are forced to prohibit or restrict returns on products bought during Black Friday sales. But rather than penalize the shopper, you can improve your returns process to meet the higher than usual returns volume.

6 Ways to Stay on Top of Returns

Returns can cause friction in the customer experience, but returns are not simply a matter of service.

Returns are, at the core, an operational challenge. To stay on top of BFCM returns, you need to balance the customer experience and the operational processes.

  1. Establish Your Priority in Returns
  2. Solidify Your Return Policy
  3. Standardize & Document Your Returns Process
  4. Secure Your Inventory Levels
  5. Determine the Right Shipping Provider
  6. Have a Plan for Waste

1. Establish Your Priority in Returns

In order to optimize your returns process ahead of the BFCM surge, you need to know what you're optimizing for.

Every returns management strategy strikes a balance of managing the customer experience, expediting the operational processes, and maximizing the recovery value of returned products.

The first step is to decide your priority, or blend of priorities, within the returns process.

If your main goal is to manage the customer relationship, or even to expedite the process, you may wish to process returns before they arrive, or with minimal inspection.

But, if the top priority in returns is to maximize recovery value, you may choose to thoroughly inspect returns before processing them and initiating the refund, exchange, or store credit.

While this is just a small example, it illustrates that to best construct your returns process, you must first determine your priorities as a business.

2. Solidify Your Return Policy

With your priorities in place, you can shift your focus to the returns themselves.

The returns process, as well as the customer experience, begin with the return policy. A return policy lays out the rules and procedures that dictate how returns are managed, particularly from the perspective of the customer.

Through the return policy, you can set fair and reasonable expectations among customers, position your returns process to satisfy the priorities you have established, and avoid potential confusion and complexities before they occur.

If you plan on having different criteria during Black Friday, we highly recommend that you have your return policy up-to-date and in place well before the BFCM sales spike. In addition, make sure the policy is clearly defined in all relevant channels, both online and offline.

Otherwise, you may create unnecessary friction among customers.

The return policy is the starting point of the returns process. It heavily impacts the customer experience as well as your operational efficiency.

3. Standardize & Document Your Returns Process

Now, you can focus on standardizing your returns process.

When your returns volume spikes, you may have to bring on part-time staff, or shift workers around as needed. But this is not the time to train new people on how to process returns.

Thoroughly document your returns process ahead of time, so that any new individuals can easily get up-to-speed as quickly and productively as possible.

Perhaps consider partitioning out different aspects of the process, so that each worker or group of workers can focus on a particular set of tasks. For example, you could have one group process refunds, and another process exchanges, so that no one has to learn multiple workflows.

Regardless, be sure to have contingency plans. For example, what will you do if a customer is clearly upset?

By formulating plans for these occurrences before the Black Friday rush, you can maximize your efficiency when the time arrives. 

4. Secure Your Inventory Levels

Supply chain is foundational to ecommerce success.

The COVID-19 Pandemic has impacted supply chains on a global scale, and many retailers are experiencing slower than usual sourcing leading up to the busiest time of year.

Incorporate additional lead time into purchasing and production decisions. Plan in advance what products you will promote over BFCM, so you can stock accordingly.

Be prepared to restock returned products as quickly as possible, so this items can get back into circulation. And, if necessary, consider upping your exchange inventory so that customers don't experience an out-of-stock when looking to make an exchange.

5. Determine the Right Shipping Provider

Nothing diminishes the excitement of a Black Friday purchase quite like a long wait for the product to arrive.

And, on the side of returns, slow shipping simply adds to the friction the customer experiences. Slow returns shipping means longer wait times, more irritation, and more emails to your customer service team.

USPS is experiencing pronounced delays, and the sales frenzy has not even started yet. While USPS provides a lower cost option to many growing business, do the cost-savings make up for the slower shipping?

As we approach the BFCM weekend, and the Holiday season, you no longer want to be worrying about your shipping provider.

6. Have a Plan for Waste

When planning ahead for the Black Friday surge, waste might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But, Black Friday heavily contributes to environmental concerns, such as air pollution and plastic waste.

Be prepared to handle the excess waste that comes with returns - boxes, packaging, and discarded products.

For example, maybe you don't need customers to send back damaged products. In that case, you could prevent a large source of returns shipping.

Consider how the different aspects will impact your business, and how your choices reflect your company values.

In Summary

The weekend of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is an exciting but hectic time. It brings with it surges of sales, but the returns that follow can be overwhelming.

Don't let the challenges of returns take away from the BFCM sales rush.

With these 6 tips, you can stay on top of Black Friday returns, and set yourself up for success throughout the holiday season.

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