It’s beginning to look a lot like a record holiday shopping season. Deloitte predicts that U.S. holiday spending will exceed $1 trillion this year, more than half of that from online channels. Adobe Analytics reports that Cyber Monday 2018 was the biggest online shopping day in U.S. history with $7.9 billion in sales. Black Friday and Small Business Saturday sales were up about 25 percent over last year.

Of course, post-holiday gift returns always take some of the glitter off sales numbers. Optoro, a tech firm specializing in retail inventory solutions, said consumers returned an estimated $90 billion worth of holiday gifts in the weeks after Christmas last year. The National Retail Federation estimates that 13 percent of U.S. consumers returned gifts during the last holiday season.

While returns are a major challenge for retailers, they don’t have to be an entirely negative experience. If the process is handled well, organizations often improve customer satisfaction and loyalty. In fact, customer-friendly return processes have become essential to the customer experience. According to Optoro, 69 percent of retailers say returns are vital to creating a positive shopping experience.

Unwrapping that value requires a quality contact center operation.

As the focal point for customer interactions, the contact center is essential for shaping the customer experience. Since most retailers enable a combination of digital and physical purchases, it is imperative to have a contact center platform that can support a variety of customer communication preferences — the so-called “omnichannel” experience. It should also feature advanced analytics, consolidated reporting, routing management and more to enable fast and frictionless customer engagements.

Retailers that need to upgrade their operations should consider cloud-based contact center infrastructure. The Contact-Center-as-a-Service (CCaaS) model is designed to give organizations access to the latest contact center technology and applications without a large capital investment. Particularly appealing to retailers, CCaaS gives you the flexibility to scale operations up or down to meet seasonal demands.

Most important, CCaaS can boost customer satisfaction by streamlining the entire customer contact process. The tightly integrated architecture ensures that organizations can route calls, emails, web chats and social media interactions using a single queue so agents can respond faster and more consistently to customers — regardless of the communication channel the customer chooses.

When integrated with customer relationship management (CRM) software, CCaaS also makes it easy to collect relevant data about existing customers and push that information to the agent through screen pops, allowing more personal and effective service. Click-to-call or instant messaging functionality within consumer-facing web pages simplifies initial contacts and gives agents contextual information about the caller before a conversation begins. Armed with the upfront knowledge of the product or service the customer is interested in, agents can find the right information quickly and improve the odds of a first-call resolution.

These technologies can directly impact the bottom line by enabling a customer-friendly return process. According to Optoro, 71 percent of shoppers say a positive return experience greatly encourages them to shop the retailer again.

Returns are an inevitable aspect of holiday shopping — gift-giving is an inexact science. As more retailers accept it as a necessary part of the customer experience, they are looking for ways to improve the overall process. With highly flexible and cost-effective cloud-based contact center solutions, retailers can help make post-holiday returns a little more merry and bright.