Walmart raises the bar with mobile returns

Walmart introduces mobile returns.

Walmart is attempting to speed up every aspect of the shopping process, including the time it takes for a customer to make a return. The big-box retailer announced that its latest technology, known as Mobile Express Returns, will make returning an item faster and easier. 

The experience will be available at more than 4,700 locations for those using the Walmart app. The new process will be available starting in early November for items sold and shipped by Walmart.com. The company hopes to eventually roll out the process for items sold by its third-party sellers.

“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 vice president, 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.” 

The mobile return is a two-step process. First, using the app, a customer selects the transaction and items, following the prompts to start a return. Second, at the store, the customer goes straight to the Mobile Express Lane at the customer service desk, where the QR code is scanned and the item handed off to an associate. 

The refunded amount will be credited to the customer's account within 24 hours. And starting potentially in December, customers will see an option in the app to instantly receive a refund before the item is even physically returned to a store. 

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This is Walmart's third mobile app initiative this year, including Mobile Express Money Services and Mobile Express Pharmacy.  

David Naumann, vice president of marketing for Boston Retail Partners, notes that product returns and exchanges are an ongoing challenge for e-commerce retailers and consumers. And even as smooth as some have made the process, it still usually requires a trip to the post office or UPS to drop off the package. Therefore, Walmart's move puts it in a prime position to leverage its stores—within 10 miles of 90% of the U.S. population—as return locations. 

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"They are also raising the bar on speed and convenience," Naumann told FierceRetail. "Walmart’s return process has a reputation of being slow and frustrating. Mobile Express Returns, which allows some products to be refunded without physically returned, is a creative process for convenience."

Andrew Park, senior director of customer experience strategy at InMoment, agrees that the returns process, especially for online orders, has been one of the biggest pain points for customers.

"With the new mobile-first approach to expedited returns, Walmart isn’t just taking the hassle out of that process, they’re making a bold statement about the kind of relationship they want to build with customers: one of mutual trust," Park said. "This changes the game, from one of siloed transactions to a long-term relationship. The potential benefits to Walmart are vast. Not only will this encourage greater loyalty, it may very well convince customers to trust the brand with the kind of valuable personal data that fuels intelligent business processes."

Park notes that this kind of competitive advantage will help define which brands come out on top as the retail leaders of the future.

Naumann continued: "If the Mobile Express Returns app works as promised and is intuitive, Walmart will delight customers and help improve customer loyalty. It will also reduce frustration with sales associates and allow them to spend more time helping customers or other tasks that are more enjoyable than dealing with unhappy customers. This could lead to happy customers and happy employees. It will also raise the bar for the competition."