The Cumbersome Return Process

Discussion
Dec 26, 2012

While sales associates are regularly lauded for their on-floor selling techniques, their true people skills come out when managing returns.

Beyond dealing with missing sales receipts, the return or exchange process often brings back merchandise that can’t be resold, either because the packaging is damaged or it’s missing required tags. Some items are returned to stores that weren’t bought there. Further complicating the return process logistically is that most stores now allow shoppers to return items bought online to the store.

Overall, it’s expected to be a record holiday season for returns and exchanges not only because stores are offering in-store returns for online purchases but also because of the spread of free online shipping and returns. Joel Bines, co-head of the retail practice at AlixPartners, told the Wall Street Journal that if consumers know they can freely mail an item back or return it to their local store, it removes an impediment to limit their buys.

Stores also have to protect themselves against fraud. The NRF’s 2012 Return Fraud Survey estimated that 4.6 percent of holiday returns are fraudulent. Typical tricks by thieves include returning stolen merchandise, using fake receipts, or returning used items

NRF’s VP of Loss Prevention Rich Mellor in a statement said "innocent consumers" often get unfairly punished by shorter return windows and limitations on the types of products that can be returned in combatting the crimes.

To crack down on fraudulent returns, 73.2 percent of retailers said they require customers without a receipt to show a picture ID, while only 7.1 percent say they require both a receipt and photo ID. More than one-quarter (26.8 percent) don’t require identification during the return process.

The Journal noted that the upside of the return process is that those customers returning items offer add-on selling opportunities and perhaps even a chance to win a new customer. It also indicated stores plan to be fully staffed in the days after Christmas to assure the return process — including the lines, restocking chore and the contentious exchanges — go as smoothly as possible.

What’s your biggest pet peeve around the return process? What extra step could stores take to ease the hassle for customers while protecting themselves against fraud?

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11 Comments on "The Cumbersome Return Process"


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Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

The long lines are a hassle. Having one line for those with receipts and/or having people who can use handheld scanners to match the UPC code on the item with the receipt and send a refund electronically would speed up the process for many consumers. The other line can be for people without receipts or gift receipts.

Having companies issue gift receipts that can be included with a gift in case of a return could be handled in the electronic line or a separate line. It is and will continue to be a difficult problem for retailers and consumers.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

One of these wounds is self-inflicted. One reason consumers return merchandise to the wrong store is the gift-giver has put a Macy’s gift into a Nordstrom box from last year. If stores would give a gift box with purchase—starting in November—some of this might be alleviated.

Zel Bianco
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

My biggest pet peeve is the amount of time it takes to return something. I know retailers will have extra staff on hand to handle the onslaught of returns right after Christmas, but it’s still a slow process.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a retailer to ask for ID along with the receipt when accepting returns. Requiring ID and proof of purchase should help against fraud while not inconveniencing the 95% of customers that are making valid returns.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Stores need to train the employees to better understand the possible fallacies they will see on returns. I do not understand why people buy, wear and then return clothing. Certainly they know if it fits before wearing it out for the evening. It reminds me of the Hollywood galas where the stars wear gowns and jewels for the gala; then return them. Not that this is the same; but I do know people buy items to wear for a single event; then return them. Somehow they see this as no harm no foul.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Returns should be seamless. If it’s yours and undamaged—take it back to questions asked.

Will you get scammed? Of course.

Will shoplifters target you? Likely so.

But … the majority of your customers will be much, much, much happier with you as well, and that’s what’s important.

Roger Saunders
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

My biggest pet peeve is the unenlightened consumer as they slow the process. And “yes,” it thus places the onus back on the retailer to accelerate that process.

As hectic as the season may be, retailers have to remind consumers of the value of a “gift receipt” being included in their packages, so that items are returned to the proper store, in a timely fashion.

Julie Stoner
Guest
Julie Stoner
9 years 4 months ago

Kmart/Sears has the right idea. Their rewards card contains your purchase history and they also email you your receipts, if you agree to that. It makes returns so much easier and I’d imagine that it cuts down on fraud, too.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Each merchant has to analyze the categories of returns and determine the quantity of fraud. If you end up “spending a dollar to chase a dime” of fraud, when looking at the returns process in its entirety, then you definitely have bigger fish to fry.

Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
9 years 4 months ago

The key is simple: Have a clear, well communicated, consistent policy. While we all love the return policy at places like Nordstrom & Zappos, it is up to each retailer to determine their policy. I do believe the most profitable policy is a no-fault, no challenge policy for all returns. Too bad the majority don’t recognize this and put the 95% through hell to protect against the 5% potentially fraudulent returns.

Having said all of that, if the retailer chooses to require a reciept and/or photo ID just be sure to do it clearly and consistently.

Christopher P. Ramey
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

The return process should be as seamless as the purchasing process. Retailers need to focus on the 95.4% who are honest rather than 4.6% who may be dishonest.

Donna Brockway
Guest
Donna Brockway
9 years 4 months ago

I think one of the biggest annoyances in returning merchandise is when the tags or receipts have been lost, the consumer is often in for a tough time. Since most purchases are made with a credit or debit card, can’t the SKU being returned be tracked against the card? The checkout process gathers all that info; why not use that data for consumers who are honestly returning items they bought at that store? Department stores seem to be the worst in using this technology, and it seems archaic in this day and age of data collection.

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