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Focus on: Preventing Return Fraud

BY Marianne Wilson

Return fraud and abuse is a year-round challenge, with estimates of industry losses ranging from $9.6 billion to $14.8 billion. The percentage of loss worsens during the holiday season, in large part due to the increased volume of returns. Seasonal workers unfamiliar with a company’s policies and procedures can also add to the problem.

Industry experts say it’s critical that retailers reduce fraudulent activity without compromising customer service. They must strike a balance between preventing fraudsters from taking advantage of them and maintaining fair policies for legitimate returns. To that end, here are some tips from The Retail Equation, a leader in retail transaction optimization solutions, for managing smarter returns during the holiday season:

  • If you decide to relax return-policy parameters during the holidays—such as providing a more lenient receipt-age policy or eliminating restocking fees—make sure you are still protected and have a plan to address fraudulent/abusive return activity. “Don’t throw away margins by illogically accepting returns,” said Tom Rittman, VP, The Retail Equation, Irvine, Calif.
  • Use fraud prevention tools consistently. To ensure that nothing flies under the radar, retailers should resist the temptation to forsake their automated return tools in lieu of transaction speed. “Don’t bypass the standards and checks in your system to get the returns line moving,” Rittman said.

Often times, to accommodate extra seasonal traffic, retailers will set up return outposts apart from the main counter. Make sure that these areas are properly equipped with the correct tools and that the staff has proper training. “Handle all returns consistently,” Rittman said.

  • Don’t underestimate the importance of proper staffing. Often times, a customer making a return is visiting that store for the first time, and retailers should capitalize on the opportunity to make a positive first impression. The more people you have on staff, and the better-trained and knowledgeable they are in answering questions with regard to returns, the better the impression will be and the faster the line will move. “There is no better way to make a good impression on a new customer than by having the right staffing and making a good impression on a return counter,” Rittman said. “Retailers should make the most of the opportunity—more interaction occurs between associates and customers at the return counter than in most other areas of the store.”
  • Maintain a smooth return process with proper training. A slow-moving line caused by employee confusion over return policies and procedures could cause shopper frustration.
  • Supply return customers with a reason to keep shopping, such as an incentive, so that the return doesn’t become a lost sale. “Incentivize the customer at the point of a return to spend their refund dollars with you, right now,” Rittman said. “Maximize the higher level of foot traffic in your store during the holidays by giving the returner a reason to shop.”
  • Be aware of the latest studies and trends on merchandise returns and return fraud. “Retailers should also do their own studies,” Rittman added. “The results will give you the metrics to make the right decisions in terms of staffing and training.
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Five ways to reduce risk and increase efficiencies with the right service provider

BY CSA STAFF

By Monte Boyer, [email protected]

For more than two years now, retail facility managers have been hunkering down; deferring maintenance and postponing facility upgrades until the economy shows signs of improvement. Although "waiting for the dust to settle" is an understandable strategy for survival, it is not without risk. Dollars deferred today may pale in comparison to the ultimate cost of postponed maintenance. Equipment that hasn’t been properly serviced can become increasingly inefficient, unreliable or — even worse — prematurely fail.

Retail facility managers can reduce that risk, and at the same time increase efficiencies, by partnering with the right service provider. A good HVAC partner can help facility managers overcome some of the challenges posed by today’s economic environment through consolidation of efforts across both facilities and services, and by creating operational and energy efficiencies.

As a facility manager, here’s how you can reduce risk and increase efficiencies with the right service provider:

1. Select a vendor with the largest reach possible
Do yourself a favor; reduce your dependence on multiple, local vendors to perform maintenance. Instead, select a vendor that partners with you across your portfolio — preferably someone with national capabilities. Whether you’re responsible for eight facilities or 8,000, you can drive down costs through consolidation to one vendor that can meet all your needs. They’re out there. Some national service providers have thousands of technicians in place across the country. Service providers that are backed by a national or global infrastructure offer:

  • Quality control: By working with a national vendor, you can eliminate the huge variations in quality that are inevitable when contracting for service with a variety of local vendors.
  • Efficiency: Consolidation streamlines the maintenance process. Instead of dispatching calls, statusing issues and reviewing invoices of multiple vendors, one call to a single point of contact is all that is required. With the time saved, you and your staff can turn your attention to revenue-generating activities.
  • Reliability: Service calls can’t always wait. Larger service providers are available 24/7/365.

2. Select a vendor with single-source accountability
Not only should you select a vendor that can execute nationally, choose one that delivers expertise across multiple services. Here’s where the efficiencies grow exponentially. Top-tier service providers offer expertise in everything from HVAC, janitorial, lighting, refrigeration, fire and safety to energy efficiency and sustainability; a suite of expert services managed by a single point of contact. One call ensures consistent performance, value and responsive service across all sites.

3. Select a self-performing vendor
Avoid working with a vendor who will manage contractors but outsource the work. Instead, partner with a provider whose employees actually perform the facility services. Self-performing providers make you their only priority. They take ownership of the work. And with a self-performing vendor, you can avoid subcontractor markups. With a national HVAC consolidator, you may have passed along the headache of managing multiple HVAC providers but you have not eliminated it.

4. Select a single-source provider to increase operational efficiency and effectiveness
Choose one provider that can see the big picture. If you currently work with 15 different HVAC vendors, and ask them to prioritize equipment replacement, you’ll get 15 different perspectives. Conversely, a single-source provider will consider all equipment from all facilities when identifying critical needs and setting priorities. By working with one point of contact who has a greater view of your portfolio, you can be confident that priority is given to issues most critical to your business. Strategic investments made today when costs are lower can provide your organization with a competitive cost advantage for many years.

5. Select a single-source provider to increase energy efficiency
Partner with a provider that can show you how to increase energy efficiency. The key will be getting access to facility data that’s relevant, meaningful and actionable — which the right service provider can deliver. Today’s most advanced technologies allow you monitor building performance in real time; identifying trends within buildings and across portfolios, spotting areas of concern and flagging underperformers. Some commercial control systems actually monitor themselves and send notifications when there’s a noteworthy event or when it’s time for a service call.

When priorities do call for the replacement of equipment, the right providers make sure you’re choosing the most energy-efficient solutions. Ideally, they even help to identify ways to leverage federally- or utility-sponsored rebate programs.

The right service provider
Choosing the right service provider requires careful consideration. Take the time to identify vendors who have national reach and are single-source, self-performing providers with demonstrated expertise in energy and operational efficiency. By partnering with a top-tier vendor, retail facility managers can reduce risk, increase efficiency and overcome some of the challenges posed by today’s economic environment.

Monte Boyer is VP and general manager, Johnson Controls National Service. Johnson Controls is an OEM supplier with over 125 years of experience in the HVAC industry. With more than 150 local branches throughout the United States and Canada, Johnson Controls National Service provides retail customers with innovative solutions and an expertise in HVAC, refrigeration, security and fire safety, as well as lighting applications. For additional information on Johnson Controls National Service visit www.johnsoncontrols.com or contact Monte at [email protected].

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Staples puts Kindle on Christmas list

BY CSA STAFF

Beginning this fall, Staples will offer several variants of Amazon.com’s popular Kindle wireless ereader device in its nearly 1,600 U.S. stores, the company announced Tuesday. Staples will offer a base model Kindle for $139, the Kindle 3G for $189 and the large-screen Kindle DX for $379.

“As part of our efforts to offer customers a wide range of top technology products and services at amazing values, the new Kindle is a natural fit,” said Jevin Eagle, Staples EVP merchandising and marketing.

Staples is the first office superstore to offer the Kindle, however, Target became the first conventional retailer to stock the product when Kindle endcap displays hit its stores several months ago.

The Kindle is Amazon’s best-selling, most-wished-for and most-gifted product for two years running. Although, it is unclear how much demand remains for the device after such strong sales, Staples has secured distribution of the compelling item just in time for what promises to be a challenging holiday season. Kindle promises to bring some needed energy to the office products retailer with interactive displays that allow customers to experience the product before they buy and to learn more about the product. Plans also call for Staples to offer a full assortment of Kindle accessories.

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