Holiday Returns: They’re Coming, Are You Ready?

Holiday returns are a lot like the Grinch: out to steal your Christmas cheer. Considering 10 percent of holiday purchases are returned each year, there’s no denying their inevitable arrival in the weeks following December 25. This season will likely bring more returns given heightened consumer expectations of relaxed cross channel return policies and the rise in online shopping (which brings much higher return rates); buyer’s remorse and gift-recipient dislike will also play a large role.
Whatever the reason-for-return, around $70 billion worth of merchandise –once gifted and unwrapped – will be heading back to retailers post holiday. Though much of it will be in functionally and cosmetically perfect condition, it can’t be put back on store or virtual shelves to be sold as new. Having a solid plan in place for these items in particular is crucial. What’s more, ensuring you recoup top dollar can mean the difference between winning and losing this holiday season.
That may sound dramatic, but when it comes to this “risk inventory” your goal should be to quickly turn it into the maximum amount of cash. Chances are, you already have a process in place for your merchandise slated for the secondary market. If that plan involves selling to one or two liquidators or middleman, you may want to reassess for a couple reasons: 1) your recovery is likely much lower than it could be (liquidators are professional negotiators) and 2) offline negotiation with these liquidators is most likely taking you away from core business activities.
A better option is to eliminate your dependence on a middleman or liquidator and set up a technology-driven solution that enables many buyers to push prices up rather than one or two to negotiate them down.
A web-based solution is one way to make this happen. Specifically, launching an online auction liquidation marketplace that can be customized, integrated, scaled and marketed based on your unique inventory needs is a proven approach.  This type of solution automates the process, ensuring a faster sales cycle and proprietary market intelligence in the form of real data on market prices.
Many of the world’s top retailers, including the world’s largest retailer and e-retailer are using a web-based, technology-driven approach and increasing recovery for their returned and excess merchandise by 30-80% and sometimes much more.
Keep in mind that it takes some very specific skills to deliver optimal results through a system like this. For example, knowing how to best assemble inventory as well as how to target, drive and sustain the right buyers will really improve recovery. If in-house bandwidth is tight, leveraging expert knowledge in the form of a highly experienced team that understands online marketplaces and demand generation will provide the most effective outcome.
Let’s be honest, unless you have a zero-returns policy - which in today’s retail environment is unlikely - there is no hiding from holiday returns. By facing them head on and applying fresh thinking to the liquidation process, your returns can become a strategic asset rather than a dreaded post-holiday afterthought.
Howard Rosenberg is CEO and co-founder of B-Stock Solutions
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