Black Friday — Cyber Monday (BFCM) is the most lucrative opportunity for online stores around the holiday season.
In 2022, nearly 10% of all revenue generated between October 1st and December 31st occurred during the BFCM weekend, according to Adobe.
But just like BFCM sales skyrocket, product returns also surge after the weekend, so much of that extra revenue gets erased.
You can combat Black Friday returns issues in two ways:
- Reduce the number of returns. This requires accurate product descriptions, timely pre-sales support, and a clear return policy.
- Streamline the return process. Automations, self-service flows, and other similar tactics can make the return process efficient in terms of costs, time, and man-hours.
In this guide, you’ll learn proven tactics for achieving both of these goals and retaining your BFCM revenue.
Common reasons why customers return BFCM purchases
Regardless of the specific numbers, most ecommerce stores face inflated return rates post-BFCM. There are a few common reasons:
- Shipping delays. Shipping companies are overloaded during the holiday sales rush around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. This leads to delays, disappointed customers, and returned items.
- Damaged products. With so much on their plate, shipping companies often don’t handle items with enough care. If the product packaging doesn’t account for that, items can easily get damaged along the way.
- Products that don’t match their description. Returns happen when there’s a discrepancy between what customers expect based on your site and marketing campaigns and what they get.
- Gifts getting returned. Many people do their holiday shopping for Christmas, Hannukkah, and other year-end holidays during BFCM. Plenty of reasons can lead to returns in that context, like wrong sizes, incorrect products, or the recipient not liking the gift in general.
Throughout the following sections, you’ll learn ways to avoid (or at least mitigate) these problems.
How to reduce post-BFCM returns and protect your revenue
While you can’t evade all BFCM returns, you can limit them significantly by following the best practices below.
Plan your BFCM inventory months in advance
A successful BFCM starts way before November. You want to estimate how much inventory you’ll need and order everything at least a few months in advance, depending on how long the shipping process takes for your suppliers.
If you wait too long, you can end up scrambling to secure inventory at times when supply chains are at maximum capability. This can easily lead to shipping delays and returned items.
The best way to estimate how much inventory you’ll need is to use historical data.
For example, if you use Shopify, you can use your Shopify order history data (or the equivalent in your platform) to filter BFCM orders and compare them to the rest of the year. This will give you a good baseline of how much sales typically jump, so you don’t waste money on inventory you won’t sell and don’t miss out on revenue because of understocking.
Here’s a great guide to BFCM inventory planning, if you need more help.
Use pre-sales support to educate shoppers
Providing timely pre-sales support is a powerful way to reduce returns because it lets you:
- Point customers to the right products for their needs. That way, there’s less of a chance they return an item because it didn’t meet their expectations.
- Answer common questions about product shipping times, returns, and exchanges in advance. Besides increasing customer satisfaction and reducing returns, this has the added benefit of slashing repetitive customer support tickets down the line.
Gorgias — our ecommerce helpdesk software — has various features that can help you implement this strategy.
For example, Flows are self-service Q&As that live in your chat widget and Help Center. Customers can use Flows to get personalized product recommendations, ask about promotions, and learn about your shipping and returns policies — all of which are great ways to instill buying confidence and nudge shoppers toward a purchase.
Here’s an example of Flows from Princess Polly, where customers can find the most accurate returns policy for their location without having to talk to an agent.
For a real-life example of the impact of pre-sales support, check out our case study with skincare brand Topicals.
They were able to increase sales by 79% and deflect 69% of incoming tickets by educating customers pre-sale thanks to Gorgias’ chat automations.
Update product descriptions and images
If product descriptions and product photography don’t match what customers receive, high return rates are imminent.
That’s why it’s a good idea to audit your website a week or two before Black Friday and check if each item’s image and description are accurate. Or, if you don’t have the bandwidth, at least audit the best-selling products and ones that are about to be discounted.
One company that does a great job in this regard is Marine Layer. They offer tons of relevant details under their products, including their exact dimensions, the size of the model wearing the clothes, and more.
Here’s an example from one of their product pages:
This in-depth information helps shoppers make the right choice and helps the brand avoid unnecessary returns down the line.
Test products and packaging before shipping
As I said, broken items are among the most common reasons for returns. You want to ensure all shipments (especially ones containing fragile items) are packaged in a way that can handle more wear and tear than usual.
If you have access to specialized machines like ECT or Mullen testers, you’re probably doing this anyway. But even if you aren't, the process doesn’t have to be complicated. Just package one or two products and throw them around the warehouse a few times to see how they hold up — we did this at a previous company of mine, and it was educational and entertaining.
Ensure a helpful post-purchase experience
The post-purchase experience begins after a customer completes your checkout process. Making this experience useful for your shoppers will reduce the number of returns and help you create long-term, loyal customers.
Here are four essential post-purchase best practices to follow:
Send clear order confirmation emails
Good order confirmation emails are a must in terms of lowering shoppers’ post-purchase anxiety and reducing unnecessary tickets to your support team.
Make sure to automate them, so that they’re sent immediately after a customer completes your checkout flow. The email itself should include:
- A verification that the order was received and that your team is working on it
- A description of the products included in the order
- The order’s number and expected delivery date
- What customers should expect next (e.g., a follow-up email when their order is shipped or a phone call to confirm the order)
Make it easy for shoppers to track their orders
Giving customers a way to track their orders is a great way to improve their experience and reduce the load on your support team.
For example, you can use Gorgias’ Order Management Flows to let customers check their order status, package tracking number, and shipping details. This is a great way to keep shoppers informed while deflecting WISMO (“Where is my order?”) requests from becoming support tickets.
Let customers know about shipping delays in advance
Whenever shipping delays can’t be avoided, you want to be upfront about the issue with your customers.
Tell them when they can expect the delivery and apologize for the inconvenience. You can also throw in a shipping discount or another incentive if you feel it’s necessary to prevent potential returns.
Show new customers how to set up and use your products
These might be instructions on how to apply a skincare product, wash a piece of clothing, or configure a Bluetooth speaker.
Regardless of the specifics, you want to make sure shoppers have easy access to the necessary information. This will prevent them from returning products just because they couldn’t figure out how to use them.
Note: For even more details and examples, check out our 10 ways to reduce ecommerce product returns.
3 proven ways to streamline the return process
In some cases, it’s not possible to avoid returns altogether. When that happens, you want to ensure the return process is as cost-efficient as possible, so you can avoid wasting customers’ effort, as well as your team’s time and resources.
Here are three ways to do that.
1) Encourage exchanges instead of returns
This option lets you keep at least part of the revenue and profit margins that would’ve otherwise been lost. Plus, it can help you delight customers with products that they might not know about, so it’s a win-win for both sides.
There are two ways to implement this strategy:
Have your customer service agents suggest exchanges
You can instruct your team to approach return requests as opportunities for an exchange.
If you use Gorgias, your agents can have access to all customer data in one place, so it should be easy for them to suggest relevant products based on each shopper’s previous interactions and purchase history. Plus, with live chat support, your team will be available to customers at every step in the process.
Using a returns tool like Loop Returns
Loop is a returns management app that lets ecommerce businesses embed a self-service return portal on their site.
Besides saving you time (since it’s self-service), the portal can nudge shoppers to exchange their products instead of returning them. This can be done via bonus credits, for example, which give customers more in-store credit than they would get as a refund in the original form of payment.
Jaxxon is one of the ecommerce brands that employ this tactic on their site. They’ve embedded Loop’s return portal, which helps their agents save time and encourages customers to exchange instead of return.
They also provide live chat support (via Gorgias) within the portal to answer questions and potentially steer customers away from a return. For instance, their agents can:
- Prompt users to exchange their item with a better option of returning it
- Explain how the customer can troubleshoot and resolve whatever issue causes them to seek a return
- Help the customer through the returns process, so they have a pleasant experience at the very least
Note: Gorgias and Loop Returns can be integrated. This integration allows customers to talk to a support agent while navigating the returns portal. That way, agents have a chance to troubleshoot any issues that may be causing the return (or steer customers toward an exchange).
2) Make your returns policy easily accessible
Another challenging aspect of BFCM is the influx of questions to your support team, many of which have to do with returns, like:
- Is there an extended return window for items bought during BFCM?
- How long will it take for the product to arrive?
- Do you offer free shipping?
- And so on
That’s why you should have your returns policy linked in highly visible places on your website. For example, you could place links to the policy in your site’s navigation or even have a small pop-up that encourages shoppers to read it.
With Gorgias, you can reduce the volume and impact of these repetitive tickets even more by:
- Using Article Recommendations. With this feature, shoppers can automatically receive an article from your Help Center that answers their question. For example, if they ask about returns or exchanges in your live chat window, they’ll get a succinct answer pulled from your content.
- Setting up Macros. These are pre-made responses (or templates) that dynamically pull in customer information like name or order number. You can include links to your return policy in relevant Macros or even create dedicated Macros for answering specific questions about returns and exchanges — like questions about order status, for example.
Bonus tip: Adjust your return policy if necessary
As mentioned, shoppers often buy Christmas gifts during BFCM. If your return window is 14 or even 30 days, most of the people who receive a gift won’t be able to return it in time.
This can lead to bad reviews, angry shoppers, and poor customer retention (especially for first-time customers). That’s why it’s a good idea to extend your return window after Christmas and New Year to ensure a good customer experience.
3) Enable self-service returns
With self-service returns, online shoppers don’t have to wait for an agent to get to their request, while agents can focus on more complex tickets (or on generating revenue via proactive customer service).
To implement this tactic, you first need to provide shoppers with clear, detailed instructions on how to return their items. These instructions should be included on your site (e.g., on FAQ pages or in helpdesk articles) and can even be printed and shipped alongside the product.
As I said earlier, you can also use Loop Returns to provide shoppers with a self-service return portal on your site. Loop’s portal is easy-to-use, so shoppers can go through it without any unnecessary hassle.
From a revenue protection perspective, you can also have Loop nudge customers toward exchanging items instead of returning them. According to their data, companies that use Loop turn 57% of returns into exchanges.
Use Gorgias to maximize your BFCM revenue
Increases in post-BFCM returns are extremely common and in some cases — inevitable.
However, with the tactics outlined in this article, you can minimize their number and impact on your revenue. You can also streamline the return process, so you’re not spending unnecessary time, effort, and money on returning items.
Here’s how Gorgias can help you in both regards:
Streamline the return process
Gorgias offers a plethora of features that can reduce the load on your agents during this year’s shopping season rush — from automated responses to self-service flows, and much more.
Plus, our integration with Loop Returns lets you create a seamless return experience. Shoppers can use the Loop portal for self-service, while also contacting your team if they get stuck (which is a great opportunity to nudge them toward an exchange).
Keep up with multichannel return requests
Gorgias centralizes all customer service tickets in one place. This means your agents don’t have to waste time switching between tabs to handle return requests from your website, email, SMS, and social media profiles, for example.
Provide pre-sales support and generate more conversions
Your agents can use Gorgias chat campaigns to communicate with customers and help them find the right products for their needs (which helps reduce returns down the line).
They can even create proactive chat campaigns aimed at specific visitors to promote BFCM discounts, cross-sell or upsell specific items, reduce cart abandonment rates, and much more.
Lastly, you can also check out our Black Friday Marketing Guide for 18 ideas and strategies that can help you drive more Black Friday sales this year.