Don’t Get Burned on Amazon Holiday Returns

It’s the holiday season, which means increased traffic and sales (not to mention ad spend). But with all of those increases comes one more on the rise: Amazon holiday returns. And with Amazon’s returns policy that favors buyers, this holiday season is primed to see more gifts sent back than ever before.

Here’s what we know about 2019 Amazon holiday returns and what sellers can do to mitigate the headaches and costs. Also check out Holiday Shopping: Return of the Gifts for some helpful info and numbers to guide you.

The Extended Holiday Returns Period

How extended? Very. For Amazon orders placed between November 1 and December 31, 2019, buyers and gift recipients have until January 31, 2020 to send products back for full refunds. That’s a full month into the new year rendering the normal Amazon 30-day returns period to almost three months for some orders. 

This long window can wreak havoc with your inventory and financials, so be mindful of this stretch. As well, you can expect some returned items to arrive back to you in less-than-new condition. With 90 days to decide to keep an item or return it, gift recipients (of apparel especially) may take some extra time to try products out (rather, “on” in this example) or even use that Christmas sweater just once on Christmas before returning it for a full refund come December 26. Expect some merchandise loss as a result.

In addition to the lengthy returns period, sending products back to Amazon (and receiving full credit) has never been easier for Amazon customers. Recipients can enjoy returns pick-ups from their homes or offices, returns at Kohl’s stores, and the convenience of Amazon Lockers as well. Plus, with UPS drop-off, senders don’t even have to print a label.

These two factors — duration and ease of returns — combined with the fact that Amazon will refund almost any purchase, have produced jaw-dropping expectations for the 2019 holiday season

  • UPS projects holiday returns will peak on January 2, 2020 with 1.9 million returns taking place – a 26 percent increase from last year’s peak returns day.
  • UPS is also expecting 1.6 million returns per day the week before Christmas.

Sure, that’s not just for Amazon and your returns will be a sliver of a fraction of those numbers, but make no mistake, the numbers are staggering and they reflect a changing view of eCommerce and what it means to buy, give, receive, use, and keep.

So What Can You Do?

This is where you need to add some padding. These Amazon holiday returns predictions are unprecedented (and in large part, a monster created by Amazon itself). You can’t control Amazon’s returns policy, but you can take care of your business. In the case of holiday returns, that means inventory balancing, checking your Amazon Account Health daily, responding quickly and helpfully to every customer-service issue, and understanding that you won’t have a truly full sense of your holiday sales performance until February when things settle. 

5 Tactics for Limiting Amazon Holiday Returns

  1. Accept that you will have to deal with returns and some of them will be for reasons that you find, well, unreasonable.
  2. Look at the feedback and reasons for returns. If you have a problem with your product or packaging, your customers will tell you, which is actually a great holiday gift because now you can address the issue.
  3. Optimize listings. Hopefully you’ve optimized your listings and you do so on a regular basis. But even if you do, there’s always room for improvement and our Seller Labs Managed Services experts can help you optimize listings for maximum visibility and conversions. If you go DIY on optimization, create detailed product descriptions (even if you have amazing photos and videos) and get down to the details that a choosy shopper would want to know. Also consider A+ Content for great-looking Amazon product detail pages that also tell your brand’s story. 
  4. Show it as well as tell it. Make sure that the quality of your pictures is high and that the photos capture the real essence and features of the product. If you were a shopper, what would you need to convince you to buy one product over another? Show it and even consider new options like livestreaming and 360-degree images.
  5. Provide great service. Providing customer support is one of the key things to which you should pay attention; be ready to help any time and answer any question quickly. Attended-to customers are happy customers. Take the loss on one purchase if it means gaining or keeping a customer.

Now What? How to Deal with Holiday Returns.

You’ve got your returned items back (or back in an Amazon warehouse). What to do now with those items that aren’t used or damaged but can’t be restocked normally? If you need to clear out in order to avoid long-term storage fees or make space for new inventory, check out your Manage Excess Inventory Options and consider selling on Amazon Outlet (not a well-known section of the website but we think you shouldn’t ignore it). From that page, you can also slash prices to create a sale or create a removal order and have Amazon deal with the returned items (less than ideal in our book). You can also donate products (potentially tax deductible) or sell them on another marketplace.

Tame holiday returns by managing customer service, inventory and financials, and more with Seller Labs Pro!


Update December 19, 2019: Amazon has expanded its free return program. The major points in the press release include the following:

  • “Items eligible for free returns are indicated on the product’s detail page. All return-eligible items, weighing under 50 lbs. and sold and fulfilled by Amazon, have at least one free return option within 30 days of delivery for a full refund. Customers can return the item for any reason in new and unused condition.”
  • Amazon also touted it’s box-free, label-free returns program as well as the fact that it “now offers more than 18,000 no-cost return drop-off locations for customers, including Amazon Books stores, Amazon 4-Star stores, Amazon Hub locations, select Whole Foods Markets and third party locations like Kohl’s, and UPS and more.”
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