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Guide to Growth: How do we deal with a flood of January returns?

A bumper peak trading period can often be dampened by a flurry of festive returns come January. How can businesses best prepare to tackle them?

Although “high volumes of returns are a function of the competitive landscape” in fashion retail, businesses should be doing everything they can to avoid returns from the beginning of the process, says Clipper’s business solutions director, Peter Louden.

Focusing on a well curated product offer alongside extensive and accurate information about each item, particularly sizing, detailed product images and fit guides, will go some way to help minimise returns throughout the whole year.

“If you’ve got blurry sizing and too much choice then there is probably more chance you are going to get returns,” explains Louden. “By doing a lot of cross referencing and differentiating products sufficiently, you give customers a better clue as to what will fit them and lessen the likelihood that it will be returned.”

If you accept that January returns are somewhat inevitable, Louden highlights that the simpler and quicker the process the better. This will benefit both your business and customer.

“The best response to a flood of returns is speed,” says Louden. “If you can process returns quickly, then you’ve got a much stronger chance of that item being resold at full price.” And that is a win for your business.

It starts with getting the products back to you. You can use partnership and loyalty schemes to encourage customers to send back returns at the earliest opportunity in return for rewards, Louden advises.

For omnichannel retailers, encouraging the return of inventory to your store estate can help to release stock quickly – particularly if you have an effective click-and-collect logistics solution that can support reverse logistics. As an example, Louden recommends Clipper’s Clicklink and its integration with Boomerang’s returns management capability, which provides rapid release of stock to maximise full-price sales opportunities.

Customers crave convenience and speed, and quick refunds will help build loyalty from shoppers who prioritise this, says Louden: “The main reason a consumer wants to [return an item] quickly is refunds.

“There is heavy competitiveness [in this area] and certain retailers are now offering refunds at the point of collection for the return,” so businesses need to stay one step ahead.

You can also include straightforward data-capture devices – such as returns forms that include tick-box options – that will enable data collection about the nature of each return. This can then be used to identify common reasons for returns and the issues you need to address.

To be as prepared as possible for January returns, Louden also suggests training any extra fulfilment staff hired for the Christmas delivery rush in your returns process to allow for a seamless transition from December into January.

Our new advice portal for retailers and brands, Guide to Growth, aims to solve the problems and challenges fashion businesses encounter as they grow. Email your questions to associate editor graeme.moran@emap.com and we will get them answered. 

Plus, read our Growth in a Changing Economy report here to learn how fast-growth brands and retailers are overcoming barriers to growth. 

Drapers’ Guide to Growth programme is produced in partnership with Clipper.

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