An expected spike in holiday returns poses a challenge to stores.

The holiday season isn’t just busy because everyone is out shopping. Soon, retailers expect to see a spike in returns.

Maybe it’s because gift-givers changed their minds and decided to get something else. Or maybe the recipient wasn’t as fond of the present as the giver thought. In fact, last year, a survey by the National Retail Federation found that one-third of all gift recipients returned at least one item that they received during the holiday season. Regardless of the reason, retailers have to prepare for the logistics involved.

“Retailers seek to get returned products back on store shelves as soon as they can.”

As an article in STORES Magazine pointed out, the process of handling a returned item is almost as complicated for retailers as getting that item on store shelves in the first place. Partly, this is because of the rise of omnichannel. Now that shoppers can enjoy a seamless transition between online and physical shopping, they are buying goods – and returning them – in many different ways. Instead of all items sold at one store being returned at that same store, a product that was shipped out of a distribution center on the West Coast could end up being sent back to a warehouse in the Northeast.

“If you look back 25 years ago, return to the store was the only method. It was a fairly clean process,” Jim Brill, UPS corporate returns services marketing manager, told STORES. “Online purchasing and local purchasing … has really added a lot of complexity.”

In many cases, retailers seek to get returned products back on store shelves as soon as they can, provided that they are not defective. This requires modern systems of enterprise resource planning that allow retailers to track products more easily. A smooth process is a cost-effective one, allowing sellers to offer more favorable return policies to customers.

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