eMarketer recently reported that online holiday sales will increase by 17% this year, according to Internet Retailer – another sharp increase over last year. And while the projected sales increase bodes well for merchants, it also means they can expect a heavy returns season. This will almost certainly be the case this holiday season, when U.S. shopper are expected to spend $54.47 billion online, setting the stage for a record rate of returns. In this two-part blog series, we’ll talk about how merchants can get ready for another peak season of heavy sales and returns. While most pre-holiday planning involves striking the perfect balance among inventory, increased traffic in-store and online, and competitive promotions, a few easy steps in advance of the holiday madness can help ensure post-holiday preparedness as well. Here are the first two of four steps that merchants can take now. Review your returns policy. Is it clearly stated and easy to understand? Is it no-hassle for customers? Does it enable multichannel return capabilities? Does it include a controlled method for collecting data? If necessary, a returns policy review ahead of the holiday rush can speed things along at customer service without increasing the demand on staffing, while reducing wait times and improving customer satisfaction. Make the returns process easy for consumers. Returns of mobile and online purchases present new reverse logistics complexities for merchants, as well as potential challenges for consumers. On the consumer side, merchants can eliminate much of the hassle by providing a pre-paid, USPS-based return label with each shipment. Not only do pre-paid return labels reduce customer frustrations with the parcel returns process and improve satisfaction, but merchants can also choose to deduct the return shipping cost from the refund, or charge a small premium for the use of the service, resulting in an additional opportunity for incremental income. The sheer volume of sales during the holidays will always challenge retailers, but applying these two simple best practices can help avert problems before they occur, reducing operational issues on the back-end and improving the customer experience.