Walmart offers express returns for online purchases

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John C. Ensslin

Walmart on Monday unveiled its newest weapon in its digital war with Amazon: a feature on its mobile app designed to make it easier to return Walmart.com purchases at its stores, and to get faster refunds.

Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, is hoping to leverage its biggest advantage, its 4,700 stores, to give it an edge over e-commerce competitors. Shoppers, Walmart believes, will like the convenience of being able to return online purchases at Walmart stores. The company has upgraded its technology and added express lanes that it says will cut processing time for online returns to 30 seconds.

“Time has increasingly become the new currency in retail as much as saving money,”  said Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of Walmart Services and Digital Acceleration. Walmart, Eckert said, knows that to win over busy families, a key target group, it has to make the shopping experience easier.

He said Walmart also realizes that shoppers expect that if they make an online purchase at Walmart.com, they should be able to return it easily and quickly at a Walmart store.

The retailer has added a “mobile express return” feature to its mobile app and is installing express return service desks in its stores. 

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Earlier this year, Walmart began installing Mobile Express Money Services and Mobile Express Pharmacy counters at its stores, and unveiled those programs at its store in North Bergen. The Mobile Express Returns stations are being installed nationwide and will go into operation next month.

The mobile app now can show customers’ online purchase history, lets them select an item for return and credits their account within a day.

The new mobile feature will reduce the time needed to return an online purchase in a store from five minutes under the old system to 30 seconds, Eckert said.

The express return function will be expanded to allow express returns of store merchandise by early next year.

Eckert also said Walmart is initiating a “keep it”  policy for online purchases of certain household items that are difficult to return, such as liquid household cleansers or shampoo. If a customer reports that such an item arrived damaged, Eckert said, Walmart will refund the purchase without requiring the customer to return the item.

The previously launched mobile express pharmacy service allows customers to submit pharmacy orders using the app and pick up their orders in an express lane. Mobile Express Money Services provides the same option for money transfers, and money orders.

Walmart is in a head-to-head battle with online powerhouse Amazon, and has added free two-day shipping, online grocery pickup and pickup kiosks in its stores, where customers can collect online orders by scanning a bar code sent to their phones.

Ninety percent of Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart store, Eckert said. Being able to return an online purchase in a store lets the customer get a refund credited to an account instantly, rather than having to wait for the item to be returned in the mail.

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