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Preparing for the Returns Tsunami – Reducing the Impact of Peak After Peak

Preparing for the Returns Tsunami – Reducing the Impact of Peak After Peak

With more than a quarter (28%) of UK shoppers expecting to spend more online this Christmas season than they did in 2018, peak season is set to be a truly testing time for retailers. Not only will online brands have to fulfill the huge influx of peak season orders, but they will also have to deal with the inevitable rise of returns that comes with it. After all, the return of thousands of unwanted items can be a challenge at the best of times, let alone during or just after retail’s busiest time of year.

In addition to being extremely costly for online brands, online returns can quickly become a logistical and reputational nightmare if not handled properly. To reduce this burden, online brands need to ensure they have an effective reverse logistics process put in place.

Here, we take a look at what online brands can do to effectively prepare for the ‘peak after peak’ by limiting the impact of returns around the festive season.

Keeping cool with effective customer communication

If a customer wants to return their item, for whatever reason that might be, effective communication with the brand is vital. This can mean that during peak season trading brands can often experience higher levels of calls, emails and other forms of communication coming into the contact centre.

Implementing online chatbots is just one option that can help brands ensure positive customer care experiences over busy periods. Tools such as these offer 24/7 availability, no hold times and the ability to answer thousands of customer enquiries all at once. Whilst this technology can help to ease the pressure during peak season, it’s important that it should not be seen as a complete replacement for human interaction. Instead, online retailers must use a blended approach which ensures a quick transfer over to a live agent, should the customer require additional attention. This should also include the transfer of all the customer’s conversation history to ensure a seamless and frustration-free experience.

Don’t get snowed under with reverse logistics

Having an effective reverse logistics strategy will be crucial for the effective handling of returns this peak season. These processes enable the fast return of goods, minimizing the time that items spend in the return channel. Real-time reporting technologies coupled with automated picking, packing and product processing tools are becoming increasingly valuable in the management of reverse logistics.

Greater efficiency enables online retailers to speed up the returns process, whilst giving them real-time product visibility and tracking across their supply chain. Profitability is affected by the value recovered from returned products and the speed in which they can then be resold – so it is more important than ever during peak season that brands get this right.

Blacklisting is not an option

Whilst some big-name retailers, in an attempt to reduce the burden of peak returns, have resorted to blacklisting ‘serial returners’, this is never the answer. PFS’ research shows that 75% of millennials would not use an online retailer that implements a strict or ‘no returns’ policy. This is despite only 5% of online consumers saying they’ve returned over five items purchased online in one year.

Although multiple returns can cost businesses through increased delivery charges, a quick and easy returns policy is an extremely crucial factor to not only keep existing customers but to draw new ones in.

Are you ready to take on the peak after peak?  

Whilst peak returns can be daunting for retailers, getting this process right is vital for boosting brand loyalty, ensuring repeat custom, and protecting word of mouth reputation through satisfied customers.

With more than six in ten (64%) of UK online shoppers saying they would stop using an online retailer after a maximum of three bad experiences, it is essential brands get it right this peak season.


As former Vice President of International Operations, Joe managed PFS' locations across the UK and Europe. Joe was with PFS since its inception, retiring after 35 years of hard work and playing a major role in driving the success and growth of our business internationally. Joe retired in 2023 and is enjoying spending time with his children and grandchildren.

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