Walmart is easing returns for its marketplace, smoothing the process for customers and making it cheaper for sellers, according to a memo from Walmart to sellers obtained by CNBC. Walmart did not immediately return Retail Dive's request for comment.
Beginning this fall, ahead of the holidays, Walmart marketplace customers will be able to print return labels from the Walmart.com website and more easily view seller return policies, according to CNBC's report.
And although sellers will set their own return windows and fees, they will be able to take advantage of Walmart's return shipping service, which offers discounted rates, according to the report.
While Walmart doesn't break out online sales between its marketplace and its own distribution, there's plenty of evidence that its marketplace, founded in 2009, has been picking up steam of late, according to research from eMarketer.
Although Walmart's marketplace, like its e-commerce operations in general, is still playing catchup, sellers are keen on it as a way to diversify their sales. With possibly the world's most efficient distribution network and a vast number of physical stores, Walmart is an attractive partner, and more Amazon marketplace sellers are looking on it as a way to expand. More than a third (36%) of sellers in a survey of 1,200 Amazon sellers conducted by Feedvisor said they plan to sell through Walmart this year, up from 29% in 2017. Many also plan to expand to other channels like eBay, Shopify and their own websites, too, although eBay is losing ground, according to Feedvisor's report.
Returns are a vexing cost of doing business online, where the already complex and expensive logistics of e-commerce are even worse. The value of retail returns last year rose 53% from 2015 to $400 billion, and the growth of e-commerce is stoking that, according to returns and overstock supply company B Stock. Returns of brick-and-mortar purchases tend to hover at 8%, while e-commerce returns can reach as high as 15% to 30%, according to CBRE, which says that the likely value of online holiday returns last year was $32 billion, up from 2016's estimated $28 billion.
Theoretically, Walmart's huge physical footprint helps with that, in contrast to Amazon, which even after its acquisition of Whole Foods has a paltry one in comparison. The e-commerce giant is experimenting with Kohl's, where select stores take Amazon returns. But it's more complicated for many marketplace sellers, which often must take back the goods themselves. Walmart's easing returns, especially shipping costs, will help.
That still doesn't reach the level of sophistication of Amazon, which offers various logistics tiers and employs data to help prevent future returns. "Amazon does not manage returns. Instead, they go through total quality management, a practice that was popularized by Toyota, to remove returns from the equation altogether," according to a Feedvisor blog post on returns featuring the work of Amazon expert Andrea Riposati. "The best way to deal with returns is not to hyper-manage them or wait idly for the issue to come across your desk."