January can be a miserable month: The decorations have come down, there's nothing good on television and there's just grey slabs of turkey in the fridge. As if that wasn't bad enough, many will be facing the prospect of returning their unwanted or defective Christmas gifts.While dealing with returns may not be your favourite part of running a business, making sure consumers are able to painlessly return their items is an important part of the customer experience. A painless returns service helps to preserve your brand reputation and customers are more likely to be loyal and come back to you if they know you're reliable even when things don't go exactly right.With that in mind, here's a few tips to help you make the returns process as painless as possible for your customers.Communicate with your customersBe very clear with customers about how they can send back their unwanted items. Ideally, you should have an easy-to-find returns page on your website which features answers to common questions. Tell your customers if you've got any policies about returning specific items to avoid disappointment. You might also want to consider including some details on how to return items in your January sales emails or through your social media profiles.PackagingYour customers may not have intricate knowledge on the logistics of parcel delivery (although if they do, our recruitment page is here). It's crucial you pass on your expertise of how to best package items for delivery. Depending on their choice of carrier, a single delivery can end up in distribution centres across the country, so it's important that the packaging is going to protect their unwanted item (particularly if it's something breakable). It's best to protect a delivery with plenty of bubblewrap and include an outer box to avoid damage to the original packaging. From toys and books, to laptops and guitars, we've got some handy posting guides here.The rules of the marketplaceIf your customers are returning items to you via Amazon Marketplace, there are a few additional things for them to consider. The first is that there's a deadline on returns for items purchased over Christmas; customers have until midnight on 31 January 2018 for all items sold by third-party sellers and fulfilled by Amazon if purchased between 1 November and 31 December 2017. To make sure these are received on time, it's best to send any returns by the 25th of January. Secondly, sellers aren't required to refund the cost of gift-wrapping, so this should be something communicated to your customers too.