Higher returns volume after the busy holiday season is an expected part of the retail business, but as shoppers increasingly purchase online year-round, a greater rate of returns persist past January and pose big challenges to eCommerce retailers and brands. In fact, eCommerce sales were up in North America 13.9% in 2012, and after the 2012 holiday season, consumers were expected to return $586.1 billion worth of retail merchandise purchased online. This annual increase in the number of products purchased online—eMarketer reported that worldwide eCommerce sales topped $1 trillion for the first time in 2012—has led to a year-round reverse logistics obstacle course. Industry analysts reported that “the rate of online return differs based on industry and location, but…anywhere between 25% and 50% is commonplace.” Fortunately, there are ways to turn a negative situation into a relationship-building opportunity for the merchant. In keeping with these trends, Newgistics is constantly looking for new ways to make the returns process easier for the swelling number of online shoppers, while using reverse logistics not only to move boxes but to also improve retailers’ bottom lines. Returns: an opportunity for improving customer loyalty A retailer has a unique window of opportunity to earn loyalty in the midst of a potentially negative online shopping experience, say when a shoe does not fit or a dish that arrived broken, by reducing the consumer’s inconvenience, fixing any errors quickly, and remaining in close contact during transit time. Personalized messages and targeted discounts for future orders can be offered right after a return request has been made by a customer in order to repair a relationship that is potentially threatened by an order error or unmet expectations. A shipper’s tracking visibility system offers merchants the insight to know where a customer’s order stands and allows for a tailored and immediate response to specific actions during transit time. Order updates and personalized offers can drive repeat purchases during this time, not only incentivizing the customer to reorder, but also demonstrating a brand’s commitment to customer satisfaction, thereby strengthening the consumer-brand relationship. Simplify to improve the customer experience Leonardo da Vinci had it right when he said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Simplifying a seemingly complex and stressful process is a critical opportunity for an e-Commerce merchant to improve customer satisfaction and generate more repeat business. Receiving an ill-fitting blazer or broken dish is a negative experience for a consumer, so the returns process should be as little of a hassle as possible. A straightforward returns policy that addresses new issues like cross-channel returns is a retailer’s first step to reduce consumers’ confusion and frustration. By offering prepaid return shipping labels and partnering with the U.S.P.S. to make every post office and postal drop box a returns location, retailers can create for their consumers a streamlined and low-effort way to return unwanted merchandise. Returns tracking can keep consumers in the loop as to when merchandise has been received and when a refund or account credit has been issued, further alleviating any anxiety about the transaction. As online and mobile shopping continue to boom, spurring a similar increase in the volume of online parcel returns, it is best to prepare for and treat these opportunities as more than logistics—they are the ideal time to cultivate a relationship with your customer throughout the returns experience and earn consumers’ trust.