In its latest move to leverage its thousands of stores against arch-rival Amazon.com (amzn), Walmart (wmt) announced Monday a new way of handling in-store returns of online purchases that it claims could shrink the processing time to 35 seconds.
Starting next month, customers will be able to begin a return process on Walmart’s app before bringing the item in question to any of its 4,700 stores. At the store, customers then scan a barcode with a smartphone and hand off the returned items at a dedicated express lane at the customer service desk, in what a Walmart executive said could take barely more than half a minute, far less than the few it takes now. It would also speed up the time it takes for a customer to get a refund, Walmart said.
The program, called Mobile Express Returns, will handle items sold and shipped by Walmart.com (therefore excluding third-party sales on its online marketplace) and is set to launch in November. The express lanes already exist, having been put in place earlier this year to speed up service for its pharmacy (prescription drugs) and money service customers. Walmart plans to add items bought in store to the service early next year.
In addition to what Walmart hopes will be a way to improve customer service, the effort is one way the retail giant hopes to use its physical stores to gain an edge over Amazon, which has hardly been idle. Amazon recently reached a deal with the 1,160-store Kohl’s (kss) chain where about 80 Kohl’s locations would be equipped to handle returns for Amazon. What’s more, Amazon is handling some returns at stores in Whole Foods (wfm) stores it recently bought.
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“We know that returning an item and waiting for a refund, especially for a product purchased online, isn’t always seamless, so we’ve completely transformed the process for our customers,”Daniel Eckert, SVP, Walmart Services and Digital Acceleration, said in a press release.
As for Walmart, the service is likely to be an incentive for people to come into stores while also cutting down on the cost of returns shipping for the company. And it is likely aimed at getting more people into the habit of using the Walmart shopping app.
In addition to the launch of the returns app next month, Walmart will allow, starting in December, customers to keep certain items ordered online that the retailer would have had to toss if returned, such as opened makeup, or a bottle of shampoo that was damaged during delivery. Shoppers would scan the item with their smartphone and get an instant refund without having to go to the store. The company says it is building in safeguards to prevent abuse of that service by customers.