How to Tackle Holiday eCommerce Returns: Tips from the Experts at UPS

December 21, 2021
Ecommerce Tips

The pandemic has dramatically accelerated the growth of eCommerce retail, with many brick and mortar retailers moving operations online to respond to changing consumer behavior. Shoppers remain as demanding as ever, and that’s particularly true when it comes to returns. 

In our final Concrete Conversation of the season, we sat down with Marla Miller, a digital Channels Manager at UPS, to discuss returns in a post-pandemic world. Marla shared some powerful stats about consumer trends and practical tips to streamline your eCommerce returns operations. Read on to learn more!  

What’s Different About Holiday Shopping Season 2021

When the pandemic swept the country in 2020 and shoppers turned online en masse, many providers were not prepared.  For instance, 7.2 million more packages were shipped each day during the 2020 Peak season, defined as the time period between Thanksgiving and the Winter holidays, than all mail carriers combined had the capacity to handle. 

With another year behind us, consumers, retailers, and providers have adjusted for the holiday shopping season. 

Here are some notable trends from Peak Season 2021:

  • Total US retail sales predicted to rise by 3% compared to 2020
  • eCommerce sales are forecasted to rise by 11% year-over-year and will account for roughly 19% of total Holiday retail sales
  • Brick and mortar sales, by contrast, are forecasted to rise 1%
  • Cyber Weekend sales were down relative to 2020, with consumers spending 85% of their Holiday shopping budget by Black Friday

This last point may seem surprising at first. But you’ve likely heard the news about supply chain log jams. Many consumers shopped early this year to mitigate delays while retailers offered discounts early to ensure plenty of time for inventory to ship. 

So, what does this mean for merchants? 

With shopping starting earlier this year, there’s more time for pre-holiday returns to find the perfect gift.  What’s more, consumers are actually less forgiving of delays after more than a year of high-volume online shopping. As a result, retailers and shippers both must plan ahead for increased returns this holiday season.  

What consumers are saying about online shopping and returns

It’s no surprise that consumers care about fast, free and easy shipping.  But consumers care almost as much about their return experience. Almost 75% of shoppers will choose a retailer for fast return shipping and 50% want a straightforward and easy return policy. 

Factors impacting customers' online purchase behavior. Source: UPS Presentation.

What’s more, a customer’s return experience can play a huge role in retention and repurchase behavior. Data shows that 76% of first-time customers who had an easy return say they would shop again while 33% of repeat customers who had a difficult return say they would not shop with that retailer again. 

More than half of all consumers say they review a merchant’s return policy before making an online purchase, according to a 2020 UPS Pulse of Online Shoppers. 

Customers' return experience materially impacts retention and repeat purchases. Source: UPS Presentation.


‍How to create a straight-forward return policy for your eCommerce business

So how do you set yourself up for success to meet customers’ high expectations when it comes to returns? 

Here are three steps to help you streamline returns. 

  1. Extend your return window.  Many retailers cannot afford to offer free returns, so extending the timeframe for returns is a great alternative, especially for Holiday shoppers who need more time to return gifts. Make sure to broadcast the extension on your shopping cart page and through all customer support channels. 
  2. Automate your returns process. Set up ways customers can start a return directly online to reduce the need for upfront customer service involvement and to make it easier for consumers to manage their return needs. 
  3. Enable easy returns with technology. Let your customers generate a label directly on your website or through your mail carrier partner. Check out more on tools below! 

Merchants should keep in mind that returns take 4x more time to handle than an outbound order. Many companies have limited staff and resources to handle large return volumes, particularly during the holidays. Make sure you plan ahead with extra hands on deck. 

Saltbox Members can lean on our trained Elastic Workforce to help with reverse inventory management for returns. Our eForce experts can receive returned product, sort through items to check for quality, and help restock them back into your inventory system. All you have to do is share your specific needs and preferences with the eForce team, and they can take it from there – so you can focus on generating sales, providing excellent customer service, or dreaming up your next product.  

How to Leverage Carrier Partners to Optimize Your Returns Process 

Take advantage of returns features offered by your mail carrier partners. For instance, UPS’s returns portfolio includes a number of low-lift solutions that won’t leave your IT department(which might happen to be you!) overburdened with messy integrations. 

Here’s a summary of the services you might want to explore to optimize your returns. All the major mail carriers offer free consultations and returns support, so explore options that are right for your business. 

Options to consider for simplifying returns processing. Source: UPS Presentation.

In addition to returns processing, you’ll often find that mail carriers have discounts with affiliates in other areas like digital marketing, software integration, packaging solutions and more. Ask your preferred mail carrier provider about their affiliate partnerships. 

On behalf of Saltbox and our Members, we want to give a huge thanks to Marla for the insightful discussion to wrap up our Concrete Conversations! 

To watch the full webinar with Marla or catch up on previous sessions, head over to our Concrete Conversations page. And we always love hearing your feedback - shoot us a line at with what you found most helpful and any topics you’d love to see in the future! 


Saltbox is the Modern Warehouse for digital commerce companies. With our purpose-built network of flexible warehouses in major metropolitan areas across the country, we are powering the ecommerce economy and the next generation of entrepreneurs by democratizing access to essential operations and logistics infrastructure. If you are running an eCommerce business, check out how partnering with Saltbox could be the next great step in your eCommerce journey and allow you to simplify your day to day operations so you can focus on your growing sales and customer community. Explore our workspace and fulfillment solutions and book a tour today to discover what Saltbox can do for you.

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