With less than seven weeks left in the make-or-break holiday shopping season, e-commerce retailers and brands are gearing up for the annual post-holiday ritual: the peak season for parcel returns. According to a recent article in Internet Retailer, “merchandise returns typically vary from 10% to as much as 40% of holiday sales volume, depending on the merchandise category.”1 Shop.org predicts that e-commerce holiday sales will increase between 13% and 15% to as much as $82 billion in November and December, which means that merchants will again be faced with a record number of returns. As eTailers prepare for the inevitable flood of returns, there are four key principles to keep in  mind. By focusing on these returns management strategies, e-commerce merchants can make the most of the busy post-holiday returns season, providing a better experience for shoppers and improving their internal operations as well. Examine your returns policy. Merchants should make sure that policies are clearly stated and easy to understand, and that their policies enable omnichannel parcel returns. It’s not too late for a quick review. By doing a thorough returns policy review ahead of the holiday rush, retailers and brands can help ensure that returns don’t increase the demands on staffing, and they can also  reduce wait times in order to deliver a better customer experience. Simplify the process with pre-paid return labels. One of the easiest ways to simplify returns is to provide a pre-paid, USPS-based return label with each shipment. Newgistics is the #1 provider of USPS® Parcel Return Service solutions, and the Newgistics SmartLabel is widely recognized as a leading consumer returns technology. Not only do pre-paid return labels such as SmartLabels reduce customer frustrations with the return 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. Newgistics’ SmartLabels also provide an operational advantage for merchants, since the barcode labels contain a wealth of information that can reduce operational issues on the back-end. Door-to-door tracking visibility from the pre-paid labels will reach retailers far ahead of the returned merchandise. This will alert 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. Be proactive with customer communications. Whenever a consumer returns merchandise, it creates an opportunity to reach them in new ways with personalized, branded messages based on specific actions. Merchants can proactively notify customers when a return has been received and when the refund is issued, creating a better brand experience, increasing the likelihood of repeat purchases, and letting customers know that they’re important. Proactive communications can also minimize unnecessary customer service calls, providing an important operational advantage.   Process refunds and store credits quickly. A common area of frustration for customers is the wait to receive a full or partial refund or store credit once the merchandise has been returned. Merchants should examine the current wait time to receive a credit and remove any roadblocks that can delay the transactions. As mentioned above, one of the easiest ways to do this is to communicate often and clearly with the customer. The post-holiday returns season will always be a hectic time for retailers and brands. However, by taking a close look at returns management practices and reverse logistics and applying these four principles, merchants can make the most out of the busiest season for merchandise returns. 1Internet Retailer, “Ready for Returns,” Nov. 4, 2013