Cross-Channel Meltdown: Or How You Can’t Return Here from There

I recently wrote about how retailers are leveraging their channels to effectively compete in these turbulent economic times…today I’d like to focus on the dark side of multi-channel commerce, that of cross-channel incompatibility.hotlinepic-aug21

In my previous example, I spoke about how Best Buy made it simple to purchase a camcorder online and pick-up in a local store.  As I related, the process could not have been easier, or better engineered to help Best Buy interact with me across their channels and drive a successful transaction from the interaction. However, I was soon to have a cross-channel interaction go haywire.

After the birth of our son, we were literally flooded with gifts from family and friends. One of my wife’s ‘aunts’ sent us a gift from Target…as Naomi lives in the Bay Area, she had gone on to and had it shipped to us in Skokie. The package arrived, we opened it, and discovered that she had gotten us another copy of educational DVD that we already had. But not to fear, as there was a gift receipt in the box! On my next Target run (to get diapers, diapers, and even more diapers), I made sure to take the DVD and the gift receipt. I went up to the customer service desk and presented the DVD and the receipt and indicated that I’d like to return it for a merchandise card. The cashier cheerfully obliged me and tried to scan the receipt into her POS terminal. For some reason the barcode on the receipt wouldn’t scan and she tried to type the order number in. No joy, the order wouldn’t pull up. She radioed for a manager to come to the desk and help her.

“Kevin” came over, took one look at my receipt and said, “You can’t return that here.” Somewhat dumbstruck, I asked, “I can’t return it because it’s a DVD?”

“No, it’s a web order; you have to send it back to Amazon.”

“But it’s not from Amazon, it’s from Target, see there’s your logo in the upper-left hand corner of the receipt.”

“You. Can’t. Return. That. Here. It’s. A. Web. Order. You. Have. To. Return. It. To. Amazon.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. It’s a Target order, why would I return it to Amazon?”

Big sigh from Kevin. “Amazonfulfillsthewebsite,soyouhavetoreturnthistothem,ok,thanks”

Not wanting to spend any more time on this (we had that diaper crisis to resolve), I took the DVD and receipt and went and got the needed diapers.

When I got home, I looked at the receipt some more, and it turns out Kevin was right, on the receipt it stated (in small print) that the order was from fulfilled by, and if we wanted to return the DVD, we’d have to ship it back and wait. This is where the bad customer experience starts to happen.

If I get a package that has the Target logo on it, has a Target packing slip, a Target receipt, and Target marketing material, it’s not unreasonable to think that Target fulfilled the order, and that I could return the item to Target (regardless of channel).

All of this is not to say I don’t understand the challenges involved with taking returns in-store for on-line purchases. With SKU rationalization coming back into vogue, retailers are contracting the SKUs that their locations stock (some by up-to 30% according to a survey that was recently in Chain Store Age), they are leery of taking returns on items that won’t ever be stocked in-store and then having to deal with an orphaned return. And with the explosion of endless aisle/long tail 3rd party providers (such as our friends at CommerceHub), you literally could have hundreds of thousands of SKUs walk in a locations front door and they’re expected to deal with the return.

All of this calls for careful planning, and implementation when a multi-channel approach is about to be undertaken. There are a multitude of areas an organization will need to address from integration amongst the various systems (OMS, WMS, POS, eCommerce), transaction flows, business process design, and store procedures, to name but a few.

One comment

  1. Matthew Tarpy

    Looks like AMZN/Target aren’t long for each other anyway:

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