Eighteen days – no more, some less – and the culmination of a year’s worth of activities by the world’s most formidable team of elves will come to a head. Wrapping paper will fly and pets will play with bows, while laughter and squeals of delight ring through the air as young and old alike discover what St. Nick has left under the tree. Even though the jolly old elf usually gets it right, just remember that his sled comes but once a year and he does not take returns for those unwanted gifts. Okay, so maybe those people toiling away in distribution centers and storefronts all hours of the day and night are not elves, but rather exhausted merchants that have worked hard to make the year a success by dazzling customers with great merchandise, sale prices, and stupendous customer service.  Despite Santa’s best intentions, some gifts just will not hit the mark. Not to worry, though, as there is no reason for retailers and gift recipients alike to suffer the anguish of post-celebration returns if they have a well thought-out plan. Therefore, with that, I present my basic tips for gift recipients and merchants that should help to alleviate the stress of handling those unwanted gifts: For the gift recipient:
  1. Relax. While that gift may not have been exactly what you want, it was given out of love. There is no reason to burden yourself with stress.
  2. Research. Ask the person who gave the gift where the gift was purchased (in-store or online) and then research the retailer’s return policies surrounding gift returns prior to sending it back or leaving the house. It will save a lot of frustration in the end.
  3. Document. Receipts – gift or otherwise – always help expedite the process and will ensure that you are able to recover as much value for the unwanted gift as possible.
  4. Plan. Remember, most merchants have comprehensive returns policies around returns, especially this time of year. You don’t have to make that return the day after Christmas. You may have weeks at your disposal and will likely be able to avoid the post-Holiday rush at the store or the Post Office.
  5. Compassion. If you are returning to a store, please keep in mind that while you may have enjoyed a few days off to enjoy the season, the person you are dealing with at the store may not have had that luxury.  It is likely that the person you are speaking with at 10:00 am on the 26th may not have left the store until 10:00 PM on the 24th.
For the merchant:
  1. Clarity. When the purchase is made, do your best to make sure that the person giving the gift has a copy of the policy or understands return requirements. Being unclear or ambiguous will not win you any fans.
  2. Streamline. Make sure all associates working in returns understand the process for managing returns and are trained on the appropriate ways to issue credits, make exchanges, and handle objections.
  3. Eliminate co-mingling of sales and returns. If you are able to do so, always establish a dedicated returns desk whenever possible so those individuals taking advantage of your killer after-Christmas sales don’t have to wait for the person in front of them to return merchandise before they can purchase theirs.
  4. Have a defined escalation path. Despite your best efforts to handle the needs of consumers returning gifts, your frontline personnel may not be able to handle everyone’s wishes. Always have someone available that has the ability to make a final call.
  5. Learn. It happens every year, so have a defined set of parameters established that you can use to measure your successes and failures in handling gift returns in order to modify your processes and maximize your effectiveness in handling next year’s returns.
Nobody likes returns, but it does not have to be painful for consumers or merchants.  With a little bit of planning and patience, you can have that perfect gift or lifetime customer that is overjoyed with your ability to delight them. As for those items that just cannot be returned or it does not make sense to, remember – there is always the opportunity to re-gift that item to someone else. Just remember where it came from in order to avoid an embarrassing situation. Trust me; I know.