Amazon, Wayfair, HP deliver fastest holiday refunds

The final leg of the holiday race for retailers is refunds and returns. So which retailers excelled in issuing shoppers the fastest refunds this year? Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), Wayfair (NYSE:W) and HP took the top spots for speed, issuing customer refunds between one and three days, before items even arrived back at the warehouse, according to StellaService's annual holiday returns study.

On average, it took retailers 9.5 days to issue refunds on returns to shoppers, slightly faster than the average of 10.6 days in the fourth quarter of 2013.

Though several retailers eased the returns process by providing return shipping labels with each package delivered, Nordstrom and Sephora also got top billing from customers for being the only retailers in the Top 40 to provide free, pre-paid labels in the product's box.

"After the holiday bustle, a seamless and timely returns experience is the priority for many consumers," said Kevon Hills, VP of insight, StellaService. "Our August 2014 Customer Service Report revealed that 52 percent of shoppers expect a refund in under seven days. Speed of return and refund was a top priority for all retailers this season, given last year's average of 10.6 days to refund."

Which retailers hit the nail on the head with meeting consumers' return needs this holiday season?

"The top three retailers issuing the fastest refunds all had one strategy in common: HP, Amazon and Wayfair all processed refunds before the items even made it back to the warehouse. By investing in the returns experience, these retailers were able to cut their refund time down to an average of just one to three days, far exceeding consumer expectations," added Hills.

Moving forward, the importance of return experience as part of the overall customer service experience should not be overlooked. And those that did it well will be remembered fondly by shoppers.

"It may seem counter-intuitive to invest in returns and find ways to expedite giving money back to customers, but every positive customer service interaction is an opportunity to impact future purchase decisions. With the continuing growth of omnichannel fulfillment strategies, we expect the returns experience to be a consistent focus for retailers looking into 2015."

Customer service remains a high-priority for shoppers year round. Companies such as J.Crew, L.L.Bean, Net-a-Porter, Ralph Lauren (NYSE:RL), Shopbop and Zappos (NASDAQ:AMZN) consistently make Stella Benchmarks' monthly survey for top 25 retailers for customer service.

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