5 Returns Predictions for Peak Season 2021

With e-commerce still dominating the retail sphere throughout the pandemic, peak season 2021 is sure to be as busy a time as ever for brands selling online. The prominence of e-commerce channels is growing every day and they’re set to account for over 20% of global retail sales by 2023. With this growth trajectory in mind, the challenge of how to handle the returns associated with these sales only heightens. Especially during peak season, which always sees both order and returns volumes skyrocket. Considering this, how will peak season 2021 play out, and how can your brand best handle consumer returns during this time? Read on to learn our key insights… 

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#1 Multiple returns channels will need to co-exist to optimally manage peak volumes. 

There are many ways for consumers to return and their preferences vary largely per geography and demographic. In our global study into how customers have chosen to return during the Covid-19 pandemic, and how they plan to afterward, this was revealed. For example, 39% of the consumers we surveyed globally indicated that they’d prefer to drop-off returns to a local postal point. Whereas 14% indicated that brick-and-mortar retail stores were their preferred first-mile channel.  

With variety and convenience of primary importance, offering multiple and diverse returns streams for your customers is essential. Especially during busy periods such as peak season. Yet this diversity may add complexity to the returns process, as each channel can require a different approach, collaborations, or products to ensure its success. If an omnichannel reverse logistics flow is not optimized, consumers may receive an inconsistent returns experience. 

That’s why it’s essential for brands to be able to offer customers, no matter where they’re located, an array of returns options. Whether this be ways to return, to a selection of postal carriers to choose from. To co-ordinate this successfully, e-commerce sellers need to invest in their returns process and first-mile operations. In doing so, both brands and customers will benefit from an increased consumer experience and reduced lead times. 



#2 Returns data will help drive successful peak operations.  

With every return generating thousands of data events, which do you act on? Turning these insights into actions such as creating visibility in a returns network, updating consumers on the status of their return, and triggering activities such as refunds and exchanges, will help brands navigate peak season more optimally. 

For example, when customers initiate a return online, they can indicate why they’re returning a product. Trends can be drawn from the answers and can be used to lower the overall returns volume in the future. Let’s say many consumers are returning the same item due to inconsistent quality, then brands can look at the production of these and decide if they should be changed to lower return rates. In fact, 32% of customers who provided a return reason said they did not want to keep their order due to the product not meeting expectations. For reasons such as incorrect sizing, a faulty item or product received not as described online.  

Shipping track and trace will also provide data that can help returns run more smoothly. If customers are provided with clear and concise updates about the status of their return, they’ll be less likely to reach out to your customer service team. This is especially helpful during peak season where time and resources are often stretched to cope with heightened order and returns volumes , as well as customer demands.  

#3 Convenience and sustainability will be equally important to many consumers. 

Over the years online shopping has grown so much in popularity largely due to the conveniences it offers. Whether this be free transport costs, pay later options, or next day delivery, the modern consumer highly values these features and will more likely return to shop again with a brand that offers them. In relation to returns, one study revealed that as high as 80%+ of respondents would become repeat spenders with a brand if free returns were offered, showing the importance of cost convenience for consumers. 

However, globally we’re all becoming aware of, and engaged with, the growing need for greener and more environmentally friendly options in our every lives. But when it comes to e-commerce buying and selling actions, convenience and sustainability don’t often go hand in hand. For example, quick transport, cross-border shipping and product waste are all ways in that ecommerce operations can be damaging to the environment.  It’s indeed possible to secure greener e-commerce streams, but it takes a little extra attention and investment.  

As much as convenience is at the tops of the mind of consumers, sustainability is fast rising as another crucial demand. In a recent global market study, we uncovered that around 75% of the online shoppers we questioned, both in Europe and North America, were willing to give up convenient features, such as a fast refund, if their return was processed more sustainably. 

The need for a more eco-friendly returns flow is only more important during busy periods such as the holiday peak, when more parcels are being transported for delivery and returns, than any other time of the year. 

#4 Local returns options will facilitate faster lead-times. 

One way that both convenience and greener options may be satisfied this peak season is through a localized returns network. Keeping unwanted items such as fashion or consumer electronics within their country or region of sale. By doing so cross-border transport can be avoided, along with the CO2 emissions associated with this transport, as well as additional costs for customs checks and processing.  

The holidays bring with them the busiest e-commerce period of the year with many seasonal and in-demand items being sold. As such, it’s vital that brands have a returns setup that allows for the quick redistribution and resale of these items so that they do not become ‘out of season’ and risk becoming wasteful.  

By having a more regional returns solution, supported by ‘local heroes,’ such as national postal carriers, transport and warehouse facilities, returns can be sent back locally and resold to new customers in the same market at quick speeds. Not only is long-haul transport largely avoided, but lead-times are reduced because of this too. Having access to a global network of local solutions for returns is essential for a seamless reverse logistics operation this peak.  

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#5 Peak season will begin earlier for many brands and retailers 

Pair ordinary holiday busyness with a surge in popularity for e-commerce channels, and it’s almost certain that peak season 2021 will be one of the most demanding yet. Last year, we witnessed the first ‘pandemic peak’ which saw many postal carriers and other e-commerce channels facing overwhelming demands which lead to delays for customers 

With 2020 as an example, it’s likely customers will begin their holiday shopping earlier to avoid disappointment. As such, it’s wise for brands to do the same, and prepare their peak operations in advance to secure a consistent and pleasing experience also during the most hectic time in the e-commerce calendar.  

Peak-proof returns solutions with Cycleon… 

Outperforming competitors and impressing your consumer base during peak season is a great way to improve customer lifetime value and encourage shoppers to become repeat spenders. By offering your customers an optimized returns flow, along with greener options, during the busiest time of year you’ll build trust and reputation in the market.  

At Cycleon, we offer an array of products that combine IT and logistics to secure robust returns flows for our clients, through peak and throughout the rest of the year, worldwide. Looking for some expertise and insights ahead of peak? Get in touch!  

Want to learn more about how Cycleon can improve your returns process?


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Gabi Buzatu is a First Mile Specialist who started working at Cycleon in the Romanian office about 2.5 years ago in November of 2019. Previously, she worked in the banking industry for many years, so she knew very little about reverse logistics and returns. However, she was very familiar with customer service and working with clients, which was the experience she drew upon when beginning to work at Cycleon.

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My Cycleon Story: Gabi Buzatu

Gabi Buzatu is a First Mile Specialist who started working at Cycleon in the Romanian office about 2.5 years ago in November of 2019. Previously, she worked in the banking industry for many years, so she knew very little about reverse logistics and returns. However, she was very familiar with customer service and working with clients, which was the experience she drew upon when beginning to work at Cycleon.

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