Looks like the folks at Walmart (WMT) just love to see Amazon cringe. The largest big box retailer in the country has been launching service after service this year, and each new service is clearly aimed at making its shopping experience a different one to that of Amazon’s. To be honest, they have succeeded in a lot of those efforts. And they’ve done it again.
Walmart announced today that it will be launching Mobile Express Returns, which aims to make the product return process a much simpler affair. The problem with online ordering is that there is always a chance that you end up ordering the wrong product, or the wrong size, or something that you actually never intended to buy. Walmart seems to have recognized this problem and is addressing it head-on with the new service.
Walmart’s e-commerce sales have been growing at double-digit rates since it bought Jet.com, and the company will have keenly watched the online returns process, noting how difficult it is for customers to send things back and then wait for days to get their money refunded.
And here’s the question Walmart would have posed to itself: with 4,700 stores spread across the country and a lot of people living just a few miles away from a Walmart store, what good is such a big network if it can’t be put to use? So, Walmart is now asking customers to initiate the return using the Walmart app, walk into the nearest store, fast track it on a mobile express lane, have the associate scan the product, drop the product off at the counter and get their refund the very next day. As simple as that.
Now, we know that something like that can never be done at Amazon, simply because it doesn’t have a such a vast network of physical locations to leverage. Amazon does want to build it, at least for the sake of its grocery operations, but it is going to take a long time. Until then, Amazon customers will have to go through the entire rigmarole of the returns process, often waiting several days to get their money back. Amazon can cut time on the last leg – the refund part – but it cannot cut the time to actually pick up the product and send it to a fulfillment center to initiate the refund process.
“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. Throughout the year, we’ve added features to our app to make it an even more powerful, time-saving tool for our customers shopping online and in our stores; Mobile Express Returns is our latest enhancement.”
Walmart has already launched grocery pickups, where you order online, select a time slot and drive to the store, where an associate loads your vehicle. The service was available in 600 stores in April, and now that number has crossed 1000. They also launched a Pickup Tower service that aims to be a vending machine for your orders.
And the best thing they did was the free two day shipping without the membership fee. Walmart could have easily called it free two day shipping and left it at that. But they didn’t: they wanted to point out that free shipping comes without a special fee, and they knew what company people would compare that with. Did I mention earlier that the folks at Walmart love every opportunity they get to make Amazon cringe? Oh yeah, I did, and they certainly do.
They haven’t won the war yet. But they took plenty of punches, and now its time to throw a few in Amazon’s direction. Some may land and some won’t, but at least Walmart can’t be accused of not trying. And the final winner of this fight? The customers, you and I.