Whose fault is it anyway?

As we lead up to NRF 2015, this week Supply Chain Nation turns its focus to trends impacting digital retail. Follow along each day this week as we explore a new topic related to retailing in the digital age.

Buy online and return in the store

Buy online from a kiosk within the store

Buy in-store and have it fulfilled by the ecommerce DC

Buy online and have the store fulfill the order

Who gets the credit for the sale in these situations, and who takes the hit for the return?

An increasing number of stores are excepting online returns, and if you don’t, you should. It is an expectation of your customers. Customers do not think in channels. It is all the same to them. If you try to tell them differently, or try to act like they are different, they will be offended, and the trust in your brand will experience a little erosion.

Online return in the store is a service that benefits both the customer and the retailer. The customer saves return shipping costs and hassle, and the retailer has a shot at another sale.

Have you noticed the slight tone of disgust in the sales associate that has to process that online return? Is it taking away from her ability to score the next sale and reach her goal for the day? Will the return count against her and against the store? If you are separating your brick-and-mortar financials from your ecommerce business, these can become contentious conversations and can cause unnecessary and unhealthy angst among your people.

Are you unconsciously pitting your business units against each other? When you are all in the game, playing for the same team, looking for the same win, does this make sense?

The solution to this dilemma is found back in the planning stage. Sales, turns, markdowns, and margin goals should be shared across the company. Inventory should be shared across the enterprise. It is not mine, it is not yours –it is ours, and it is our collective responsibility to get it out of the warehouse and out of the store into the hands of our customers as quickly and profitably as we can.

However, if the situation is not that easy to solve, and your planning metrics are separate and your inventory is separate, and the reporting structure is siloed, the store can still capitalize on the moment by turning the return into a selling opportunity. Train store associates to search for this type of opportunity. If the customer would have returned it straight to the warehouse without the store interaction, the store would not have had the opportunity to turn a return into an exchange, and an exchange into an upsell and an upsell into a loyal returning customer.  Look at each touch point with a customer as another opportunity to showcase your expert service and product knowledge.

The entire transaction must be seamless and quick. The customer should not have to wait for you to find the purchase, for you to verify the price, for you to figure out what promotions were applied. Seamless experiences for your customer is what you are after. The most effective transaction is the one where the customer does not even notice the technology that was involved. It just happens.

Exemplary customer service is the ticket to brick-and-mortar success, and that online return just gave your store another opportunity to prove it.

To read other entries in this Digital Retail blog series, click here.



  57 Comments   Comment

  1. Shai Garber

    Great piece, really loved it ! It relates closely to an universal principle that works in every part of our life : give first and without any conditions and you will receive much more than what you gave.

  2. Seamless transaction and return is what every customer wants with minimum hassle. Interesting read.
    Brick and mortar channel is always better for touch n feel of the product and for 100% satisfaction !!

  3. Paul Longshaw

    Great piece.. thought provocing. Shows the challenge on Tele sales vs customer satisfaction

  4. Very interesting article and shows how technology to changing the way consumers shop

  5. True! As a customer I wouldn’t want to know want went in to give me a seamless shopping and return (if I want)experience. Nice piece!

  6. Sridhar Patnam

    Couple of challenges I can think of is when a company has separate channels with different branding, for example Outlet and Brick & Mortar. The product from both the channels is sold from an outside entity like a Franchise Store where as the product is doesnt cross channels in domestic stores. A customer buys a product online (from B&W brand) and wants to return it in an Outlet Store, or buys in a B&M Store and wants to return in an Outlet Store or vice-versa. In both the cases, you end up with a product in the places you dont want them to be.

  7. I particularly like the comment around “our” inventory. Once the channels grasp the concept that we are all in this together, you can help elevate the customer experience and build loyalty.

  8. Ed Heinzelman

    Obviously this can become an internal nightmare. But if everyone keeps in mind that customer service is the goal it should be something that can be worked out with careful planning and training.

    It will only get more troublesome if not dealt with effectively as stores continue to roll out relationships with drop ship vendors.

  9. It is, as always about customer centricity – but with omni-channel, the bar needs to be raised to a completely different level & I like the way you have tied in technology and service.

    Sharon, would like to hear from you about Sridhar Patnam’s comment on the franchise-model – what does JDA recommend?

  10. Interesting article. Sadly, I think too many stores are still in the “ours” vs “theirs” mentality. It can be very stressful and time consuming for a customer (who views it all as “Store ABC”) to manage a return or exchange. I think this is probably the single biggest win for brick and mortar—successfully figuring out how to do this seamlessly and make the customer feel like they are doing the store a favor not the other way around.

  11. It is important for companies to think of eCommerce and Brick’n’Mortar as one business as that what it is to he customer. I hate shopping at places where online pricing doesn’t match the stores or they won’t take return in stores. This is a great article calling out all the thinking points.

  12. The unwritten challenge here are the online sites that are offering extensions to the physical store offerings due to size and or distribution constraints. The challenges that are inherent in managing those product demands are not typically addressed by standard in-store employee training.

  13. Amazon was forced to modify its customer service policies looking at the fraudulent customer behaviour. It cant always be about the customer.

  14. Ruben Macias

    What you say is something that needs to happen more often in the real world.

    There is a disconnect among the retailers channels.
    Whether is a catalog or online purchase that eventually transforms into a return via the brick and mortar store.

    Right now Retailers handle each channel as a different company, financially, legally, etc. The ideal should be that only the operations should be what distinguishes one from another, but the business framework used right now by retailers makes it very difficult to attain a seamless integration as to be one business with just different “service windows” for customers.

    Current model enforces good business practices to the inside of each channel. But when it comes to sharing operations among channels, then those same good practices prevent each channel to cooperate because one or several business rules will be broken or will integrate as a loss to it, therefore mining the huge potential of servicing customers on any channel on any operation, any time.

    I hope that eventually the industry will move towards where you point. Great article!!

  15. This is exactly the need of the hour: To make the customer feel as if the store has sold an experience to him/her (a good one) and not just the product. Customers today looks for a seamless, problem-free experience in a store (be it offline or online) or he would rather switch to other competitors. Today he/she has numerous choices at their disposal and how the business build that Wow relationship with the customer will shape the future relationship with existing as well as new customers.

  16. Very insightful! Consumer needs and expectations are changing. Customer loyalty is dropping big time. This poses a new set of challenge – brand loyalty to brand paradox.

  17. Informative !! Leaves you with the new perspective on real time issues for retail


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