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New Consumer Data Shows How Post-Holiday Returns Directly Impact Customer Loyalty

With the holidays just behind us, it’s time for the next and final inevitable phase of the shopping season:  

The post-holiday returns period. 

Each of the past couple years has been very different and this year is no exception. With some stores reopening after COVID closures, supply chain disruptions, and general uncertainty for both brands and consumers alike, we wanted to find out what’s to be expected heading into 2022. 

We recently surveyed 2,600 U.S. consumers in late December 2021 to understand how they’re feeling about post-holiday returns, what they want (and expect), and how your loyalty program can play a role in the returns process to make your loyal customers love you even more. 

Here’s what we found. 


Your Customers Have Enough Stress – Don’t Let Your Returns Process Add to It

From the get-go, many consumers have been anxious during the 2021 holiday season, especially around retailers’ ability to keep up due to supply chain issues and expected delays. 

We found that 28% of consumers have made more purchases from Amazon due to supply chain slow downs this year, so many shoppers were already more stressed than usual.  

And while slightly more than half (51%) of consumers don’t anticipate a change in their return behavior heading into 2022, 36% of consumers anticipate they’ll have the same number of returns, but that they will take longer. And 13% of consumers anticipate they’ll have a smaller number of total returns, but likely only because they don’t want to deal with the return process at all. 

Additionally, 10% of consumers say returns are often not worth the hassle, so they keep them, which could lead to dissatisfaction with the brand.  

The poll also found that 73% of consumers are unlikely to return to a retailer if they had a bad return experience (39% of consumers are somewhat unlikely and 34% are very unlikely). 

That’s why it’s critical to meet your customers’ expectations post-holiday to ensure the returns process is as smooth and painless as possible, especially if they are already stressed going in.  

Read on to learn what your customers wish would happen. 

What Consumers Are Expecting Around Their Post-Holiday Returns

The top three features that consumers are looking for from a retailer regarding returns are a free label, box or parcel (71%), payment returned to their preferred method (51%), and fast turnaround for the refund (46%). 

Also, 26% of consumers are looking for return tracking (monitoring the return package delivery) and 25% are looking for no-receipt returns.  

Brands should take this wish list seriously. For example, 53% of consumers are less likely to shop at a store that only provides store credit or a store gift card for a return.  

While some of these items are a bigger ask for brands, things like different refund methods, return tracking and receipt-less returns shouldn’t be a huge lift – especially if you’re collecting their data and communicating with them frequently through your loyalty program. 

If an issue arises that requires speaking to customer service, 47% of consumers overall prefer to communicate over the phone when needing to speak to the retailer’s customer service department when processing a return. 

This does vary slightly by age, with 69% of consumers age 60+ preferring the phone. Only 52% of 45–60-year-olds prefer the phone, followed by 38% of 18–44-year-olds. This shows that it’s best to offer a variety of communication channels to your customers, including phone, email, online chat bot, and text messaging, to make sure they can reach you in the way that is most convenient to them. 

Learn more about offering elevated customer service to your loyalty program members. 

Our recent 2021 Black Friday Survey data showed that 83% of consumers said they’d shop mostly or only online this year. 

Interestingly, 61% of consumers still prefer to process their returns in-store while only 30% mail the return back to the retailer. This means that your stores need to be clean, orderly, and efficient. Any time that shoppers are coming into your stores is an opportunity to delight them – even if it’s to return something. 

(It’s also a great time to sign them up to your loyalty program, especially if there are benefits around the return policy.) 

So, just how can your loyalty program help satisfy some of these expectations? 


How Your Return Policy Can Play a Role in Your Loyalty Programs

We know that free returns, fast turnaround times, and receipt-less returns are high on the wish lists of your customers. Our 2021 Holiday Shopping survey data found that a better return policy during the holiday season was the third-most desired loyalty program benefit right behind product discounts and expedited shipping.  

This poll also found that 90% of consumers are more likely to shop at a retailer if they know you have a free return policy. 

That might sound like a tall order, but have you considered including a better return policy for your most loyal customers? 

Burlington Coat Factory’s Burlington Loyalty Program, for example, offers extended, receipt-free returns for members. Best Buy offers a tiered approach to returns for its loyalty program members. The entry level tier of My Best Buy offers standard 15-day returns, but elite and elite plus members get 30 and 45 days, respectively. 

Overstock’s Club O, a premium loyalty program that costs members $19.95 annually, offers free returns as a benefit. In this model, the cost of the benefits (such as free returns) is subsidized by the fees that members pay to join. 

Although an enhanced returns policy is often overlooked as part of the benefits mix of many loyalty programs, 80% of consumers said a better return experience would influence their decision to join a loyalty program.  

That’s worth exploring. 

If you do choose to offer a better returns experience to your program members, keep it simple and make the terms clear. We found that 50% of consumers are unsure if they’ve been able to retain their loyalty program points when returning an item to a retailer. 

Make sure your customers know the value your loyalty program provides beyond just points and discounts. A better returns policy will also save them money, add more convenience, and give them back time. 


Don’t Let Returns be a Pain Point for Your Loyal Customers

Post-holiday returns are a fact of life for you and your customers.  

But you can use this stage of the holiday shopping season as an opportunity to give your best customers an excellent experience.  

If you can alleviate their stress, meet them where they want to be, and turn an experience that no one looks forward to into a process that’s less stressful (and maybe even a little enjoyable), you’ll go a long way toward building better relationships with your customers. 

If you’d like to chat more about creative ways to incorporate a better returns policy into your loyalty program, reach out to us here. 

Paul Wolfer

Paul is our Senior Manager, B2B Marketing. He works closely with the leadership team on strategic positioning, messaging and branding. When he's not posting on LinkedIn or working on the newest data study, he can usually be found adventuring to breweries or attempting to learn a new song on his guitar.

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ebbo™ is an all-in-one loyalty company. With our data driven strategy, full-service approach, and the unwavering support of the people behind the platform, our dedicated team will work with you to understand your loyalty goals, innovate solutions and help you build customer engagement on repeat.

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