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Sarat Burle

Associate Director, Cognizant
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  • Posted on: 10/10/2017

    Walmart seeks online edge with 35-second returns

    Easy returns have always been the "necessary trouble" for retailers in their journey for improved customer convenience. With increasing online purchases by customers, the impact of a cumbersome return process is very high on the experience. In this context, Walmart's efforts to simplify this return process is quite laudable. However, I will have to hold off on the celebrations (as a consumer) because of the following challenges: 1. Staffing: Processing an online return at the counter does not take much time. It is the waiting in the line. So, more than the app functionality, I feel adding a "Mobile Express Lane" is useful. However, the success of this depends on how they staff these lanes (note that the item still has to be handed over to the associate). In a recent trip to Walmart, when I was standing in the returns line with 3 customers in front of me, 4 behind me, there was only one associate at the desk, and there was not even an attempt to call for another associate to man the other terminal. 2. Space Management: If you have been to a Walmart customer service area, you would see quite a number of returned items either lying there or being picked up for quality check. With the 35 seconds or less promise, this pile up can increase much faster and Walmart has to manage this space (or clearing of this space) pretty well. 3. Marketplace Sellers: In my opinion, the returns are more difficult for marketplace seller items than for Walmart's own items. In the recent trip to Walmart, the lady in front of me in the returns line was complaining of how she had to contact multiple people (customer care, seller's care center, in-store, etc.) for returning a damaged product sold by a marketplace seller. With WMT adding more marketplace sellers every day, it becomes imperative that their return process be made simpler early on. 4. Impact to in-store customers: While the % of returns to purchases might be higher for online vs. in-store purchases, the absolute numbers will still be quite high for in-store customer purchases. It is yet to be seen how the focus of 35 seconds return process for online purchases will impact the customers who are returning in-store purchases. 5. Why even come to store?: As an online customer, if I preferred to get an item delivered to home, why should I even be bothered to make a trip to store to return (albeit for 35 seconds in the store)? As a leader in retail, shouldn't Walmart look for even more innovative ways to get the return item picked up from the customer? Speedy process at the return counter is almost table stakes these days, similar to faster check-out counters. I hope Walmart team addresses these at the earliest to see better outcomes on their new initiative.
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