Customer Service Excellence: Handling Post-Holiday Returns on Amazon

December 15, 2023

There is profit to be realized in how you handle your FBA holiday returns, and these Amazon seller tips can help you to realize it.

Amazon FBA returns are possibly the hardest part of the holiday season for sellers. They detract from your bottom line, and no one wants to do more work for something that is actually costing them money. However, there is profit to be realized in how you handle your FBA holiday returns, and these Amazon seller tips can help you to realize it.

1. Preparing for Post-Holiday Returns

Sellers should already be tracking Amazon's extended return window for the 2023 holiday season. Most will be happy to know that the extended window does not apply quite as broadly as it has in previous years. The 2023 returns window requires that any items purchased between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, 2023 be returnable through Jan. 31, 2024. The only exception is Apple brand products, the return window for which closes on Jan. 15. Aside from the extended window, all other FBA return eligibility factors remain the same.

Most of a seller's holiday returns preparation starts when products are listed. Sellers should ensure their returns policy and product descriptions are clear and visible to customers. You can also prepare by accounting for past holiday return trends and adjusting inventory appropriately. If you stocked holiday-specific items, plan ahead for any leftover or returned inventory and consider running post-holiday promotions to sell off surplus products. 

Of course, there will always be amazon FBA holiday returns for gifts that simply missed the mark, such as the toys Great Aunt Mary bought for children who are much too old for them. While you cannot anticipate every possible scenario, you can consider incentives that may encourage customers to reconsider a return. This starts with good customer service and communication.

Holiday gifts are returned at a higher rate than regular purchases — up to a 35% return rate for eCommerce shops, compared to a regular 16%.

Remember, even free Amazon FBA returns cost a customer time and effort. If you can mitigate their reason for returning the item, such as by talking them through a misunderstanding over how a product works, they will likely prefer keeping the item to expending the effort involved in returning it.

Experienced FBA sellers with a good handle on the holiday season may also consider extending their return window past Amazon's requirements. This can offer an additional customer service selling point but may be risky for new sellers or new product lines. 

2. Customer Communication in Handling Returns

Every customer service interaction is an opportunity to create a future sale. Even when dealing with a gift recipient, customer satisfaction can inform whether or not someone buys from you in the future.

You must be prompt and courteous in responding to a return request. This is a great opportunity to try to talk the customer through their reasons and try to alleviate their issues without a return, but be wary of slowing or delaying the return process too much. Employ automation to stay on top of communications, but monitor any automated responses to ensure you do not frustrate or annoy customers with responses that could appear unrelated or unsympathetic to their communications. Communication should be empathetic, courteous, and helpful. 

You can also use this opportunity to suggest other items in your inventory that may be a better fit for the customer. People remember customer service interactions that exceed their expectations. Within the FBA space, consumers expect automated responses and impersonal experiences. Simply receiving a note that clearly came from a real person can make a huge difference. If their return experience is helpful, easy, and characterized by personal communications, they will remember you as a good seller to deal with in the future.

Use language that is simple and easy to understand to avoid confusion or misunderstandings. Ensure that return instructions are clear and concise and that you make it easy for customers to return the item in a manner that will protect against damage during shipping. 

3. Leveraging Amazon FBA Services for Returns

There are multiple options open to FBA sellers in handling returns. For instance, for some seasonal or lower-price items that are not worth restocking, you may want to consider offering a "returnless refund." When the cost of return shipping and restocking is too much to justify, this option can save sellers significantly. 

You can also present a returnless refund to the consumer as an ecologically-friendly choice, even if it is primarily an economic choice. In your communications, suggest ways they could donate the item to a worthwhile cause or recycle it rather than throwing it away. This enables you to minimize your costs while upselling your brand image.

For returned items, ensure you understand all your options through Amazon. This includes the FBA grade and resell program, under which returns can be regraded by Amazon and resold under a new, separate listing. This can be a good option for items you do not intend to restock or continue selling and takes some of the added work of dealing with returned items off your plate.

4. Strategies to Minimize Returns

As previously noted, the most effective way to minimize returns during and immediately following the holiday season is to work with customers to mitigate their problems. That means prompt and empathetic responses, quick resolutions, and regular updates. All of these will also help encourage future purchases and positive feedback and reviews. Most other strategies for minimizing returns relate to preparation, such as quality control and product descriptions. Once a purchase is made, there is not much you can do about those elements.

However, even during the busy returns season that comes each January, you can start analyzing current returns for future adjustments. Start by keeping careful records of the returns you see during the post-holiday season. This can be done with something as straightforward as a spreadsheet. For each product, record the number of returns processed, create categories for the reasons customers gave for returns and the number of returns for each category, and record any customer comments that may be relevant to avoiding future returns. 

Good customer communication will also ensure the reasons you record are relevant to the returns and not simply something a customer chose randomly from a pulldown menu because none of the automatic reasons fit their issue. And remember, while it does not actually minimize the returns, good communication can lead the customer to purchase an alternative item from you rather than another seller, mitigating the cost to your bottom line.

5. Post-Holiday Returns: Lessons for Future Sales

The most important thing you can take from each holiday season as an FBA seller is lessons for the next. From understanding why items did or did not sell to why they were returned, the data from this season is a priceless commodity for any seller. You may need a break after the holiday season rush, but keep detailed records and return to give them careful analysis as soon as possible.

The better you understand why a strategy did or did not work, the more prepared you will be for the next holiday season. You can also dig deeper into Amazon's policies and programs and look for solutions that may help to make your next season more successful. You also do not need to wait for a bad season to adjust something about how and what you sell.

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