As the holiday season gets closer, you’re probably dusting off that “special” return policy you use every year. And if you’re like most brands, your policy features a holiday return window that allows anything that’s purchased in November and December to be eligible for return into January.

First, let’s agree on terms. We call this holiday period Returns Season. Let’s start by understanding what brands are up against from Black Friday until January. Then, we’ll explore why you need a new approach to your holiday return window.

First of all – what is Returns Season?

Returns Season is the period just after BFCM through to mid-to-late January where brands can expect a 31% increase in return volume. Newsflash – that’s a lot.

How much? Well, if you’re a mid-sized brand doing 750 returns per month, that will jump to 983 per month for at least 8 weeks. We’re getting these numbers from our 700+ Shopify brands currently using Loop as their returns management solution.

We’ll get into this later in the article, but since BFCM brings so many new customers, the returns touchpoint could be where brands can create amazing post-purchase experiences that win customers & make repeat purchases happen.

The problem with the standard holiday return window

The holiday season presents a bit of a unique problem for online brands. You want customers to take advantage of your holiday promotions, but you also want them to be able to return items easily after they open their gifts on Christmas.  

In the spirit of generosity, you crafted a return window that allows anything purchased in the holiday months to be returned by a specific date in January. But the truth is that this approach may not be the best option for you or your business.

Learn more: How to reduce holiday refunds

A new approach: Be generous all-year-round

Here’s our proposition: if you’re willing to be generous with your return window during the holidays, why not apply that same mindset to the entire year?

It turns out this is becoming an ecommerce returns best practice in the industry. Customers are expecting more and more when it comes to return policies. Simply put: if you don’t lead with generosity, your competitors will.

People are buying gifts all the time

While holidays are certainly a peak time for gift-giving, this is something that customers do all year long. Whether it’s for a birthday or an anniversary, there are endless reasons for people to purchase presents for their friends and family – especially when it comes to industries like men’s and women’s apparel.

Gift-giving is something that happens every month of the year. So why make your return window less generous for customers during the other 10 months of the year?

Return fraud isn’t as common as you might think

You may feel hesitant about offering a generous return window throughout the year because you’re concerned that customers will abuse it. Research shows that this isn’t really a cause for concern, as only 5% of returns are fraudulent.

Only 5% of returns are fraudulent.

So instead of worrying about the very small number of people who might take advantage of your policy, focus on the 95% of customers who are doing everything right. If you’re still concerned about that 5%, we explain how to minimize the potential losses around return fraud without compromising your return policy experience in this post.

Customers will have a better experience

67% of shoppers check the returns page before making a purchase. One of the top things they’re looking for is how long your return window is.

67% of shoppers check your returns page before making a purchase.

The more generous your policy is, the more likely they are to shop with you. That’s why we always say that your return policy is one of your most powerful marketing assets and a great way to boost conversions.

30-day return windows are overrated

30-day return windows are the norm in ecommerce. But there’s no data that points to the fact that a 30-day return window is superior to a 60-day (or longer) return window.

At Loop we see 80% of returns happen in the first 14 days.

In fact, at Loop, we see 80% of the returns we process happen in the first 14 days – and a longer return window won’t change that. Research has also found that a longer return window makes returns less likely.

3 recommendations to handle your holiday return window

So let’s cut to the chase. You understand our stance, and you’re open to changing the way you approach your holiday return window. But what are your options? Here are three alternatives to consider:

1. A 60-day (or longer) return window all year long

This is the obvious solution that we’ve been hitting on throughout the post. Instead of offering a 60-day return window that’s limited to November and December, extend your return window for the entire year. And you don’t have to stop at 60 days! Some of the most beloved ecommerce brands – like Brooklinen – offer customers an entire year to return their products.

2. A 60-day return window during the holiday months

Let’s say your standard holiday return window ends on January 20. So if a customer purchases something on November 20, the gift recipient has 60 days to return it. Not bad. But let’s say another customer makes a purchase on December 20. That means the gift recipient only has 30 days to make a return – half the amount of time as the first example. 

Instead of this, simply offer a 60-day return window in the holiday months regardless of when the item is purchased. So if a gift is bought on November 20, the recipient has 60 days to return it. If a gift is bought on December 20, the same thing. This relieves pressure off the person receiving the gift.

3. A 60-day window on exchanges and store credit only

Your third option is to apply your generosity only to gift exchanges and store credit – while keeping your policy the same for refunds. 

As we mentioned before, most gift recipients want to keep their present, so you don’t have to worry too much about customers asking for their money back. But since 52% of returns on Shopify happen because the customer has the wrong size, you want to make exchanges as easy as possible. 

Offering a more generous return window shows these gift recipients that you want them to have the right product in their hands. This, in turn, will lead to you picking up a new customer who loved their experience with you!

Its time to rethink your holiday return window

It’s time to change things up this holiday season. Instead of defaulting to your standard holiday return window, consider one of the alternatives we offered to give customers the best experience and see better business outcomes – from improved conversions to increased sales. Want to optimize your returns experience in time for the holidays? We would love to help. Just get in touch with our team.