It’s starting to hit home to retailers that they may face issues in bringing stock back over the coming weeks, as carriers are warning of likely delays.
As retailers head into the peak season of Black Friday, Cyber Monday and of course, Christmas, there is a new ‘unknown’ never seen before. Particularly from a logistics perspective in terms of supply and demand. Due to this upset, it seems the majority of retailers are hedging their bets this season by stretching the ‘Black Friday’ phenomenon way beyond a weekend on sales shopping – and many have been offering Black Friday deals since the 1st of November.
I’m not surprised, as in the current climate, retailers are looking for any solution to ease the pressure on their supply chain, caused by a lack of labour, driver shortages, and increased demand for eCommerce. The potential issue has also reached consumers and according to Braze, half of shoppers aim to finish their Christmas shopping by 12th December and a quarter by the end of November. When asked why, the top three reasons were supply chain disruption, the risk of delivery delays, and fears of new lockdown restrictions.
Returns are a part of the problem for many retailers as we saw an 84% increase in the volume of returns from Black Friday weekend in 2020 compared with 2019. Whilst spreading out sales, rather than one peak weekend, will likely alleviate supply chain capacity issue to an extent. There are a number of additional recommendations for retailers that will not only help restock those shelves but also keep customers happy too.
Firstly, extend your returns policy. This may sound counter intuitive when it comes to getting stock back in time for Christmas. Yet, it can actually offset the lockdown-inspired uncertainty, logistical challenges presented by Brexit, and the overall boom in eCommerce. Trying to cram in your returns can cause delays in warehouse processing, which is then felt by the customer in the form of slower refunds.
Concerns around how long consumers will actually take to return products are usually unfounded. Our research has actually found that the majority of customers are punctual and organised, with 95% of people returning products within the first week of delivery. A longer returns window will not encourage more returns, it simply extends the window and reassures customers that you want to make the process as smooth and convenient for them.
Secondly, flexibility is key. Provide as much variety as possible for both return methods and refund options. Having a flexible logistics network not only makes practical sense for businesses, but it is also vital for consumer experience. Consumers want choice and convenience in their returns process. They want to see affordable prices and different consumers want different collection options or drop-off points. To help goods keep moving this Christmas, retailers should investigate whether they can add additional courier options to their network, rather than relying on just the one.
When it comes to refunds in this strained peak season, it may not always be feasible to wait until the return is fully processed and graded before offering a refund. A returns management solution can allow you to identify your ‘VIP’ customers and offer them instant refunds. Rewarding your VIP customers will build loyalty and help save the sale. In addition, providing a ‘return to gift card’ option will further help stop shoppers switching to an alternative retailer and keep the sale within the business.
Choice and flexibility are the aim of the game to get through this unpredictable and ongoing time for retailers. Both for the customer but also for your own supply chain and allowing technology to help you manage all aspects of the journey can remove the stress for everyone involved.