The next phase of Walmart's e-commerce transformation is here, with a new initiative from the retailer that aims to match Amazon's famously generous return policy.
As of next month, Walmart shoppers can begin making returns via their phones, and some items won't even need to be brought back to the store. Walmart's new "Mobile Express Returns" service allows customers to use the retailer's app to initiate a return, completing the process by dropping the item off at any store's "Mobile Express Lane" and scanning the app's QR code.
The new mobile returns service will be available first for walmart.com purchases, with in-store purchases added early next year. Walmart also said it's currently planning a similar returns process for items purchased from third-party sellers on walmart.com.
Additionally, as early as December, customers returning select items will see an option in the Walmart app allowing them to instantly receive their refund without even making a trip to the store to physically return the item. This offer will initially be available on select household items, such as shampoo and color cosmetics, with other items to be added over time.
“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.”
Eckert told CNBC that he recently purchased floor cleaner at Walmart.com, which became damaged in transit and made for a messy, cumbersome return. Under the new return policy, he'd be able to immediately receive a refund, while the store wouldn't have to bother with processing a defective return, Eckert said.
Earlier this year Amazon launched what it calls "returnless refunds," a policy that enables Amazon or third party sellers to offer a refund without taking back an item that may be expensive to ship and hard to resell.
Walmart's new mobile returns program is just a continuation of the retailer's aggressive digital strategy. Last year Walmart paid $3.3 billion for e-commerce startup Jet.com. Since then it has also acquired Moosejaw, Bonobos and Modcloth. The company has also been busy improving its shipping offers and expanding its popular Grocery Pickup program nationwide.
In the first two quarters of 2018, Walmart's digital sales grew 63% and 60%, while overall global sales increased 7% and 12%.
This is the third Mobile Express offering announced this year by Walmart and comes at a time when the retailer is doubling-down on innovation within the app to deliver a more integrated shopping experience.
In addition, according to a study by InfoScout, Walmart Pay now ranks as the No. 2 mobile wallet, despite launching chainwide only 16 months ago, and now offers customers instant access to their Walmart credit card.
Walmart said it expects to roll out even more app features that make shopping faster, easier and more convenient in 2018.
Costco announced last week that it has launched two grocery delivery services. Meanwhile, Target has expanded its next-day delivery services and rolled out new digital features.