Last week we took a look at three steps merchants can take now to prepare for a busy holiday season of sales and returns. In the second part of this two-part series, we’ll take a look at two additional tactics retailers can deploy before the real madness starts that will help alleviate both retailers’ and consumers’ holiday shopping and shipping headaches: Examine the customer experience from purchase to delivery. A thorough review of web, mobile and in-store paths to purchase all the way through the potential returns process can expose areas where customers are more likely to experience confusion, frustration or delays. One common area of customer frustration is subpar website performance during peak shopping times, so merchants should measure and improve site performance ahead of the holidays to increase conversion rates online.   Additionally, the lag time between purchase and delivery is a good opportunity to communicate with customers and build ongoing loyalty. Each shipping event is an opportunity for merchants to reach customers in new ways with personalized, branded messages based on specific actions. In the case of merchandise returns, branded alerts can notify customers when a return has been received and when the refund is issued, creating a better brand experience and increasing the likelihood of repeat purchases. Keeping customers in the loop doesn’t only benefit consumers—it provides door-to-door tracking visibility. The data races back to the retailer ahead of the return package, alerting the retailer to potential issues with quality, sizing, or any other number of problems, in time for buyers and planners to make sale-saving adjustments and negotiate vendor concessions. Better data can also improve labor planning, inventory management and asset-recovery rates. Process refunds and store credits as quickly as possible. Another common area of frustration and anxiety for customers is the wait to receive a full or partial refund or store credit once the merchandise has been returned. Merchants should measure the current wait time to receive a credit and review the processes in place that could delay this transaction, though a quicker and less expensive fix is to communicate often and clearly with the customer. Peak season will always be a hectic time for merchants, but applying these two principles to your operations can help ensure a smoother holiday sales and return season, while creating the kind of customer experience that drives repeat purchases.