First, it was free shipping, then it was free and fast shipping, now it’s returns that are becoming the battleground in eCommerce.
Amazon always seems to lead the industry down a path that is difficult for small and micro businesses to follow. Even big box companies are struggling to keep up with the giant eCommerce retailer.
Especially, sellers on eBay and Etsy continue to lament the push by marketplaces to make it easier for buyers to return goods.
Amazon FBA sellers already know that easy returns are part of the business model. And last year Amazon made it easier for customers to return items that were fulfilled by sellers.
Walmart Adapting “Industry Standards” for Marketplaces
Walmart sent out a memo to marketplace sellers informing them that they will also improve the returns program on their third-party marketplace.
Some of the changes Walmart is introducing are already standard practice on many other marketplaces.
For example, customers will receive better information about a seller’s return policy before purchasing. And if they want to return an item, customers will be able to print shipping labels directly from their walmart.com account.
Walmart’s customer service team will also help facilitate customer returns in accordance with the seller’s requirements.
With these changes come the typical “seller benefits” of easier and better-managed returns which include flexibility to configure restocking fees, shipping carriers, return windows, and shipping fees.
Walmart will also offer sellers the option to use their Returns Shipping Service, which offers discounted shipping rates.
In-Store Returns Bombshell
But the real bombshell news for marketplace sellers is that Walmart is ready to launch an option to accept marketplace returns in Walmart stores.
Details have not been released, but the company said in the memo that with over 4,700 locations across the country, in-store returns could become the game changer for “our joint customers.”
The company stated it would provide further details on the new return options, including in-store returns, in the coming weeks.
Holiday Season Rush
There is no doubt that these policies are all meant to be in effect for this holiday season.
While Walmart is gaining in eCommerce, Amazon is expected to reach 50 percent market share in U.S. eCommerce sales by the end of this year.
Compare that with Walmart’s 3.7 percent and it becomes obvious why Walmart is doing everything it can to try to attract more eCommerce customers. Especially with policies that may not be as easy to duplicate by Amazon (yet).
Impact on Sellers
Easier returns are a sore subject for many sellers. Every time a marketplace has introduced new “easier” return policies, there has been a significant outcry from the seller community.
Walmart is an interesting case as the company doesn’t have a huge seller community. Also, many sellers on the Walmart marketplace came from ChannelAdvisor as the company was a launch partner for Walmart’s marketplace.
Therefore, the first wave of sellers brought significant eCommerce experiences that often included more liberal return policies and a willingness and resources to adapt to changing consumer behavior.
But it is now possible for anyone to apply to sell on Walmart.com and while the retailer asks for eCommerce history, there are more smaller sellers on the marketplace now.
How will these sellers react to this change in policy? But more important, how will all third-party sellers react to the possibility to offer in-store returns?
From Walmart’s point, it is a big win. If a customer returns an item to the store, there is a good chance that customer may purchase something else at the store.
But marketplace sellers will almost always lose that revenue from the original sale.
Therefore, sellers will be interested to learn how store employees will handle their returns. What standards will be required for Walmart associates to accept a marketplace return?
What if a Walmart employee accepts a return that is clearly different (or damaged) from the item purchased, who will pay for it?
Walmart Stores Struggle With Online Returns
Today, Walmart stores still struggle to deal with defective exchanges for items that are sold online and offline.
Basically, Walmart will refund the purchase and expects the customer to buy the item again in the store. It will take a supervisor to match any price difference between online and offline sales. But even with that inconvenience, the retailer maintains the sale.
What if a customer bought an item from a marketplace seller that is also sold in the stores?
Marketplace sellers may end up losing sales for size, color, price, or other “problem” that normally could be solved with an online exchange or price adjustment.
Lots of question on how this will work. It will be interesting to see the new policy and procedures that Walmart will propose to sellers in the coming weeks.
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Editor’s Note: Some information in this article sourced from CNBC.