Consumer dropping off a returns package

When Does "Return Season" Really Start?

Let’s clear up a common misconception: the most popular time of the year for returns—a.k.a. return season—does not start on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas). In fact, the spike in returns begins while the holiday selling season is still underway. 

Our team at Narvar reviewed the returns initiated on our platform between November and January. 

The biggest month for returns during the holiday season? December, with roughly 40% of all holiday returns. As for the trendline, we typically see returns start to elevate after Black Friday/Cyber Monday (BFCM), peak right after Christmas, and then return to normal levels by mid-January. 

For comparison, nearly 32% of holiday return requests were issued during January—though even November wasn’t far behind, accounting for 28% of the total holiday returns surveyed.

And in total, this holiday period accounts for 30% of annual returns, rightfully earning the name “returns season”. 

What earlier holiday returns mean for merchants

With this in mind, the following are several steps e-commerce retailers may want to consider when preparing for the 2022 holiday selling and returns season.

Allocate effort evenly

Rather than waiting to allocate resources to returns until January, make sure your returns operations are properly staffed throughout the holiday selling season. While it may not make sense to allot workers to returns that truly haven’t materialized, flexibility and responsiveness are key here. Leaving the necessary ‘wiggle room’ to address unexpectedly high return volumes may help prevent return backlogs that frustrate shoppers and hamper profitability.  

Improve return processing speed

If returns are coming through the door in early December, getting the items processed, restocked, and resold more quickly may protect a business’s ability to recapture profits by selling them again while they’re still desirable.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to use the earlier months of 2022 to evaluate where and how you can improve your return processing speed. Is there additional technology that could fill existing gaps in your process? Can you improve efficiency with your partners? Every improvement you make here increases your odds of being able to resell returned goods during the busy holiday season.

Incentivize early returns 

It’s customary for retailers to extend their return policies over the holiday season. Given that return policies impact a customer’s decision to buy, you likely want to continue this tradition even if less consumers are hoarding their returns. 

However, you can test other marketing and customer service initiatives to entice earlier returns in order to get inventory back into rotation before the holiday season ends. For example, you can offer free return shipping only for the first 7 or 14 days after a purchase, requiring later returns to be delivered at the customer’s expense. You can also run a holiday returns promotion that offers extra loyalty points or store credit to consumers that initiate their returns quickly. 

Plan your promotions carefully 

Knowing that returned items may be coming in earlier than expected allows you to adjust your holiday shopping season promotions accordingly.

For example, if your returns data shows that some of your products are returned more frequently than others, you may decide to run a special on them earlier in the season to increase the odds that any returned items can still be sold again. 

Planning ahead for the 2022 holiday season

If the analytics provided by your current returns partner doesn’t allow you to make data-driven decisions like these, it may be time to evaluate new options. Partnering with a company like Narvar ensures you have access to data, like return reasons, to help you plan for an efficient and profitable holiday shopping season—in 2022 and beyond.

The data above is featured in our report, “A Look Back at the 2021 Holiday Season.” Download now for more insights into the trends we’ll see remain prevalent this year.

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