4 ways to take the headache and hassle out of annoying holiday returns: Retail expert

  • This year's holiday forecasts indicate that the 2019 returns volume will be record-breaking.
  • UPS alone projects that holiday returns will peak on January 2, 2020, with 1.9 million returns taking place — a 26% increase over last year's peak returns day.
  • Understanding return-policy specifics, and waiting a few weeks to make your return, are some of the ways to ensure a hassle-free experience, according to the CTO of Returnly.
Bad holiday gifts
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Returns can be a monumental headache, not only for retailers but for consumers as well — and this year's holiday forecasts indicate that the 2019 returns volume will be record-breaking.

According to Oracle, 77% of consumers "plan to return a portion of their gifts" this holiday season; UPS alone projects that holiday returns will peak on January 2, 2020, with 1.9 million returns taking place — a 26% increase over last year's peak returns day.

As the chief technology officer for Returnly, a financial technology company for retailers and brands, I spend most of my day thinking up new ways to help online retailers provide consumers with the simplest and most fair return experience.

The thing is, rolling out new features to help retailers meet and exceed their shoppers' expectations requires a deep understanding of the challenges consumers face when making a return. And at no other time in the year are a shopper's "return realities" more pronounced than over the holidays.

For retailers, returns are a part of life. And while many retailers are doing everything they can on their side to create a pleasant return experience, there are many things shoppers can do as well. Here are just a few things you can do to avoid the headache of holiday returns.

1. Understand the return-policy specifics. This may sound obvious but whether you're the gift buyer or gift recipient, take the time to read the seller's return policy. Make sure your item can be returned or exchanged, and find out what type of return window you're dealing with. To reduce holiday shopping stress, many retailers have extended returns windows or lenient policies. So before making a purchase, check online to make sure the return policy works for you.

2. Wait to make the return. If you're dealing with an item that doesn't have to be returned immediately, then why join the masses, stand in long lines and fight the crowds? If you wait until after the first week in January, chances are good that lines will be shorter and everyone you come in contact with will be a little less stressed.

3. Check online before running out to the store. It's clear that emerging brands are hyperfocused on the customer experience and will go the extra mile to do what's right and make you happy — even if it means issuing instant online credit before receiving the return. With Returnly's financial technology, many direct-to-consumer brands are able to immediately issue instant store credit online at the point of return. This gives retailers a competitive edge by allowing customers to shop online for a preferred item with their instant credit before the retailer even receives the return.

4. Be kind. Remember, the holiday season and the returns rush can be stressful for everyone. By the time you've reached the in-store return counter, contacted customer service over the phone or are getting assistance online, the person helping you has probably helped countless customers before you. Being polite, even when you're frustrated, can go a long way when judgment calls are required.

While seemingly simple, I've seen these tips go a long way to helping shoppers (myself included) avoid the dreaded holiday-returns-induced headache. And if nothing else, rest assured, there are people like me who will continue to think about ways to improve your returns experience in years to come.

— By Marcos Sainz, CTO of Returnly and a member of CNBC's Technology Executive Council