TECHNOLOGY

Walmart aims to make merchandise returns a 35-second process

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

A discount giant has just made a big move in its returns process.

Eager to streamline the often frustrating task of merchandise returns, Walmart will introduce Mobile Express Returns. Starting Nov. 9, the new service will enable online customers to use the Walmart app to begin the returns process — before even heading to their local store.

Here’s how it works: Customers follow prompts on the Walmart app to find their transaction and pinpoint the merchandise they want to return. Once completed, they can go to their local Walmart store, and enter the Mobile Express Lane.

Here, they scan a QR code displayed on their Walmart app directly onto on a dedicated card reader. The refund is credited back to the shopper’s payment account by the next day, according to Walmart.

The returns process, which the company estimates will take 35 seconds or less, can be completed across Walmart’s more than 4,700 locations.

The discount giant plans to streamline the process even further in December, when it enables customers to instantly receive their refund without even making a trip to the store to physically return the item. This service will initially be available on select household items, such as shampoo and color cosmetics, and others items to be added over time, Walmart said.

“We know that returning an item and waiting for a refund, especially for a product purchased online, isn’t always seamless, so we’ve completely transformed the process for our customers – whether they are shopping in stores or at Walmart.com,” said Daniel Eckert, senior VP, Walmart services and digital acceleration, Walmart U.S. “By leveraging our physical stores and the Walmart app, we’re changing the returns game in ways that only Walmart can do.”

To ensure that shoppers don’t abuse the system and keep merchandise they have already been reimbursed for, the discounter has invested in technology to make sure the service isn’t exploited and even detect shoppers who might be abusing the privilege, according to The Street.

Looking ahead, store purchases will be integrated into the program in early 2018. The company is also creating a similar streamlined returns process for items sold by third-party sellers on Walmart.com, according to the discounter.

The new returns program sends a message to online rival Amazon, which recently partnered with Kohl’s to streamline its own returns process. While the department store retailer began accepting Amazon returns this month, the service is only available in 82 Kohl’s stores in Los Angeles and Chicago.

“Walmart, with Marc Lore’s influence, is working hard to leverage the power of their 4,700 stores, by launching new and aggressive in-store pickup programs to draw their customers back into the store,” said Michael Levine, VP of marketing at Photon. “They use the Walmart Mobile app as a means to create new synergistic experiences that cross from digital into the physical store – putting digital at the core for delivering new customer convenience.”

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TECHNOLOGY

Lids’ new loyalty program hits a home run

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

With a mere six months under its belt, Lids’ new Access Pass loyalty program is driving customer engagement to new levels.

Tired of running a stagnant loyalty program that only engaged a small amount of shoppers regularly, the sporting goods headwear and apparel retailer was ready to change the game. In April, Lids switched from a static points-based program to a digital model designed to “delight” shoppers.

“In the past, our Lids Club loyalty program enabled shoppers to collect points during each purchase, and that was it,” Jeff Pearson, senior VP of e-commerce and marketing, Lids Sport Group told Chain Store Age. (Lids Sports Group is made up of Lids headwear stores, Lids Locker Room retail chain, Lids Clubhouse retail stores and its online businesses. The company is owned by Genesco Inc.)

“We fell short when it came to communicating with our loyal customers, or even showing them their accrued points and how to redeem them,” he said. “It was time to bring in new offers and contests, and to keep consumers engaged to Lids core brand.”

Using its digital platform upgrade last spring as a jump-off point, Lids began designing Access Pass — an electronic loyalty program that engages all shoppers, and delivers a new level of rewards. To be sure to engage its entire customer base, Lids launched two membership options.

Access Pass Premium, which requires a $5 annual fee, rewards members with 10 points for every dollar spent. Once 1,000 points are accrued, members receive a $10 reward toward their next purchase — a reward that is redeemable at any of Lids’ more than 1,300 retail locations across North America, or online.

Premium members are also eligible for sneak peeks on new exclusive Lids merchandise, special gifts on birthdays, early access to special sales in-store and online, 20% off on all headwear and embroidery, and 10% off apparel and novelties.

A free version of Access Pass is also available. It rewards members with five points for every dollar spent, and features limited incen-tives, including special gifts on birthdays, and early notifications on special offers.

The retailer is augmenting its loyalty program with a dedicated app that enables users to track points, reward thresholds and earned rewards.

Keeping simplicity top of mind, Lids only requires Access Pass members to share their email address either online or in-store during checkout to earn points. They can also sign in at store-level by scanning their app at point-of-sale.

Since launching in April, Lids has enrolled approximately 1.7 million subscribers in both programs. Almost 70% of members — just over 1.1 million — are enrolled in the Access Pass Premium program.

Meanwhile, the Access Pass app is approaching 150,000 app downloads. While the app does not support mobile commerce, Pearson is increasingly bullish on the value it is driving related to personal engagement among members.

“Besides helping members track their loyalty, the app is a vehicle we use to engage them socially, especially when communicating exclusive offers,” Pearson reported.

For example, the app supported a promotion that rewarded Access Pass members that purchased over $50 between July 1 and July 9, with a $10 reward to be used in August. The promotion had 30,000 shoppers qualify for the reward, and 8% redeemed the incentive in August.

“This was something we couldn't communicate before we had the app or new loyalty program,” he said. “We now know which customers took advantage of the offer, and also learned that 60% customers used the reward in-store and 40% redeemed the offer online.”

Pleased with early results, Pearson expects to double Access Pass’ enrollment within three months.

“By the end of our fiscal year, January 31, 2018, we will be 10 months into the new loyalty program, and this goal would put us well ahead of numbers that we had annually for our previous Lids Club program,” Pearson explained.

“Customers are already responding well to the new program and it is outperforming our previous model,” he added. “We need to continue listening to our customers and engage them to find out what they want in future. That is how we will continue to evolve the program into something that is useful and desired by customers.”

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TECHNOLOGY

Wholesale club giant expands online delivery options

BY Marianne Wilson

Costco Wholesale Club is upping its home delivery game for online food orders as the grocery delivery market continues to heat up.

The retailer has introduced a new two-day delivery service, called CostcoGrocer, for customers across the U.S. (with the exception of those in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico.). The service, which has a fee of $3, offers delivery of non-perishable foods and sundries, with about 500 items available. The delivery fee is waived for orders over $75.

Costco is also expanding its same-day delivery partnership with Instacart to more markets. The program, which includes both dry and fresh foods, is available at some 375 Costco locations. It also is being expanded to include more products.

“There’ll be a number of additional U.S. locations planned – added between now and the end of calendar 2018 as our partnership expands,” Costco CFO Richard Galanti said during the company’s fourth quarter earnings call.

Costco’s moves to expand online delivery come as Walmart and Target are also upping their games. On Oct. 3, Walmart announced it had acquired Parcel Inc., a last-mile delivery startup that specializes in delivery of perishable items and general merchandise to customers in New York City.

Target recently expanded the rollout of its next-day delivery service of household essentials, Target Restock, to eight new markets.

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