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How mobile can streamline returns and exchanges for better omnichannel experiences

While retailers say they support the ability to return or exchange items in-store that were purchased online, this comes with an additional cost that could ultimately be passed on to consumers. The receipt and payments, when given the mobile treatment, are among the ways that retailers can start boosting the omnichannel convenience of returns and exchanges.

“Look for ways to make the process simple and seamless for customers,” said Pat Dermody, president of Retale. “That’s how they are managing their lives across screens and devices and retailers need to honor and anticipate that behavior.

“For example, start with the receipt,” she said. “Most retailers require a receipt in order to process a full refund.  Some retailers will email that receipt to a willing shopper at the point of purchase so being able to retrieve that receipt either via email or through an app would make it easier for the shopper to accomplish their return.

“Instead of digging through an envelope, purse or a bag to find an errant slip of paper, find the receipt on your phone and process your return with one less hassle.”

Transaction history
Keeping track of receipts is the biggest challenge consumers face when returning or changing gifts, named by 32 percent of consumers recently surveyed by Retale. Additionally, 30 percent pointed to shipping and handling, 19 percent confusing return policies and 17 percent any required additional costs.

Mobile payments could also be leveraged by retailers to make exchanges and refunds easier.

“Ultimately it should make the process easier via the ‘all in one place’ nature of mobile pay/mobile retrieval,” Ms. Dermody said. “If a payment is processed via a mobile device, that payment platform is capable of storing the transaction history – which it does on paper now.

“The key for a return is to have that SKU level information as to exactly what item is purchased and what is to be returned or exchanged which is not currently a part of the mobile payment process but could be going forward,” she said.

Online shift
Providing a convenient return or exchange experience is an important way for retailers to stay on the good side of shoppers in the new year.

With many retailers seeing more than 50 percent of online traffic coming from mobile during the holidays and significant jumps in mobile-driven sales, it is clear that consumers want omnichannel shopping experiences, and returns and exchanges are no different.

Retale’s second annual commissioned report on holiday returns and exchanges polled more than 500 U.S. adults and found that 64 percent of consumers prefer to return or exchange gifts in-store and only 12 percent prefer to do so online. Compared with last year, there is a slight shift in favor of online. The survey from early 2015 found that 70 percent preferred in-store exchanges and returns while 9 percent preferred online.

The main reason why shoppers prefer in-store returns and exchanges is the perceived convenience, with 75 percent rating the in-store experience as convenient while only 54 percent called online returns and exchanges convenient.

Processing returns
When reviewing a retailer’s return and exchange policy prior to making a purchase, 30 percent said the most important aspect is a full refund in the original form of payment, 26 percent pointed to free return shipping, 19 percent no receipt necessary, 16 percent no time limit on exchanges or returns, 6 percent no tags or original packaging necessary and 4 percent wants returns that can be done via mail.

Returns and exchanges are a big part of the holiday gift-receiving experience, with 24 percent of consumers planning to return or exchange gifts, according to Retale’s survey.

In terms of why consumers return or exchange gifts, 44 percent said it is because they do not have a need for the item, 34 percent said it was defective and 9 percent would rather have a store credit.

“We saw in our Holiday shopping survey that 75 percent of the shoppers planned to use mobile devices in the Black Friday efforts and subsequent surveys have similarly shown the growth of mobile this holiday season,” Ms. Dermody said. “What this survey says is that while more and more people are embracing mobile in their shopping behaviors, at the moment, mobile and desktop play a smaller role when it comes to processing returns.”