Valentine’s Day is for lovers – but not when it comes to merchandise, apparently. 

Research from payments company Worldpay found a shocking 95% increase in ecommerce returns processed on February 17th compared to those processed on February 14th. Why are so many gift recipients sending back their presents? 

In this article, we’ll take a look at trends in Valentine’s Day spending, the big reason why so many returns take place, and what merchants can do to improve the shopping experience.

  • Valentine’s Day gifts are often impulse buys.
    • 53% of respondents to a 2021 RetailMeNot survey said they’d plan to purchase gifts within a week of the holiday.
  • Due to COVID-19 restrictions or precautions, fewer people planned to spend on dinners out or experiences. 
    • 35% planned a restaurant meal
    • 14% planned to gift an experience
  • The average purchase price of gifts has nearly doubled from the previous year (from $85 in 2020 to $163 in 2021).
  • Topping the list of most-wanted gifts, respondents craved:
    • chocolates (44%)
    • flowers (34%)
    • jewelry (33%)
    • electronics (22%)
  • WalletHub showcased what people planned to buy:
    • candy (54%)
    • greeting cards (44%)
    • flowers (36%)
    • an evening out (24%)
    • gift cards (21%)
    • clothing (20%)
    • jewelry (18%)

The biggest Valentine’s Day gifting flop: Apparel

Interestingly, clothing was nowhere on the “most-desired” list, despite the popularity of apparel as a gift item which is a likely contributor to why 99% of post-Valentine’s Day returns are items of clothing. 

And one of the most frequently purchased, yet least desired, items was lingerie. More than one-fifth of men purchase lingerie as a gift for their female partners, but only 2% of women say they’d like to receive it as a gift. 

There’s no breakdown available on which clothing types are most frequently returned, but given the dim statistics, we’re betting lingerie is the most likely culprit.

So, if you sell intimate apparel or other popular Valentine’s Day gifts, what can you do to make sure your customers’ gifts don’t end up getting shipped back to sender? Try these strategies.

How to reduce returns on intimate apparel and other unwanted Valentine’s Day items

Valentine’s Day goes better for everyone when your customers give their partners just what they want. So, as a merchant, how can you help them make better decisions?

  • Promote gift cards: It’s not that women don’t appreciate intimate apparel – but they’ll be much more satisfied if they have the opportunity to pick out their own styles than to put on whatever’s in the gift box. Leading up to Valentine’s Day, you can run a marketing campaign encouraging your customers to give their loved ones gift cards so that they can treat themselves with the fashions they genuinely want. 
  • Offer easy sizing guides: One frequent reason for returns is that the product doesn’t fit, and that’s especially true if the product is a gift. Encourage your customer to confirm their partner’s size in other brands so that you can recommend the right fit for their purchase.
  • Provide a Valentine’s Day gift guide: Some customers may default to lingerie before considering other types of purchases for their partners. If your brand offers a range of products, put out a promotional newsletter before the holiday that showcases some of your “most-loved” Valentine’s gifts, which might include chocolate, jewelry, and accessories like scarves, which should fit well on anyone.
  • Make your return policy for intimates clear and inflexible: While it can often benefit your brand to have a generous return policy on many items, make sure that you lay out the terms clearly for returning items like lingerie. No one wants to buy used underwear (ew!), so make sure that customers know to accept returns on these items, they should be in new, unworn condition with the tags still on, if you plan to accept returns on such items at all.

Turning returns into exchanges

Let’s say your pre-emptive strategies don’t work out, and a customer still purchases a Valentine’s Day item that their partner wants to return. 

Don’t worry – there’s still a chance to turn this into a positive moment for both the gift recipient and your brand. 

While you should make it easy to accept a return, it’s also important to entice customers to consider alternatives, such as exchanging the product for another option. Here are some ways to optimize the return process to retain more revenue in the form of exchanges:

  • Use a questionnaire to find out why the customer is returning the product, and offer alternatives. If the customer is returning a piece of lingerie or other apparel, make sure that your returns process includes a questionnaire with options like “too small,” “too large,” “wrong color,” or “didn’t like the style.” Based on their responses, you can offer personalized recommendations for exchanges from your inventory, whether that means recommending the same item in a new style or color, or offering a different item altogether.
  • Include a small fee for return shipping, with exchange shipping available for free. One way to incentivize returns is to make it less attractive to ship back an item for a refund. While customers love free shipping in both directions, including a fee for shipping returns will encourage customers to weigh up whether they might be interested in exploring other options from your store instead.
  • Offer bonus credit for exchanging an item. You can encourage customers to shift course away from a refund to an exchange by strategically offering them bonus credit that they can use towards any other item from your catalog. By doing this, customers are more likely to select a new item, and may even spend more than the bonus amount.

Remember, when a customer transitions from a refund to an exchange, you’re not just retaining the value of the original purchase – you’re retaining the value of the entire customer relationship.

If a customer requests a refund, they may never buy from you again. By encouraging them to exchange the item for another product they like better, they’ll get another chance to experience your brand’s value, and will be primed to build a long-term relationship with your company. 

Showing the love on Valentine’s Day and beyond

Regardless of whether your customers end up satisfied with their Valentine’s Day purchases the first time around, it’s important to build a superior customer experience to delight them every step of the way, including the post-purchase experience.

Your best-in-class customer experience should offer personalized recommendations to help guide customers towards the right gift purchases in the first place. If the customer ultimately wants to process a return or exchange, you should provide a seamless experience that makes it as fast and easy as possible to get what they want, whether that’s cash in hand or a replacement product. 

By using an automated returns platform like Loop, you can expedite and streamline the returns process, with strategies in place that guide customers towards extending their relationship with your brand and making an exchange. Loop customers retain an average of 40% more revenue via exchanges than other ecommerce brands, so building an optimized workflow can provide a significant boost to your bottom line. 

Regardless of where your customer’s journey takes them on Valentine’s Day or any other day, make sure that you’ve empowered them with technologies that make it easy to find the right products, learn about them, and find the right alternative if they don’t work out. 

By building a best-in-class customer experience all the way through to the post-purchase experience, customers will fall in love with your brand over and over again.

To learn more about how to optimize your return process contact our team.