(Bloomberg) —Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is simplifying the return process through its smartphone app, aiming to ease a major hassle of shopping in time for the holiday season.
Beginning in early November, shoppers will be able to initiate the return of items bought online via the retailer’s app before going to the store. Once there, they’ll move through a dedicated express lane to scan the products and hand them over. Walmart is No. 3 in the Internet Retailer Top 1000.
The new system is meant to shave the average time it takes to process a return from about 5 minutes to 30 seconds. Wal-Mart will also instantly credit customers for returns of some items without having to bring them back at all.
“We recognize that saving time is the new currency for customers, as much as saving money,” Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of services and digital acceleration, said in an interview.
The moves represent the latest effort by the world’s largest retailer to improve its online shopping experience to counter Amazon.com Inc., which has a flexible return policy. Almost one-third of items ordered online are returned, compared with just 8 percent of things bought in physical stores, according to Optoro Inc., which works for Wal-Mart’s e-commerce unit Jet.com to process returns. U.S. shoppers return about $260 billion in goods annually, a figure that’s increased as more purchasing moves to the web.
Wal-Mart’s new app-based returns process will expand to include in-store purchases early next year, Eckert said. Items eligible for the instant return credit, without bringing the products back, include shampoo and some cosmetics. That service will start “sometime in December,” he said. The company declined to say how many customers use its app, and doesn’t share data on the volume of items returned.
The program doesn’t cover returns of products sold by third parties over Wal-Mart’s online marketplace, Eckert said, as that’s “a bit more of a complex program to tackle right out of the gate.”
Asked if customers could exploit the ability to get instant credit for items purchased without having to actually return them, Eckert said Wal-Mart would be able to detect and root out abuses.
Wal-Mart’s U.S. e-commerce chief Marc Lore is among the company executives slated to address shareholders this week at its annual investor day.