Stamps.com Introduces Return Services for Online Merchants

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Stamps.com, an Internet mailing and shipping company, yesterday said it has developed two services that help online merchants manage merchandise returns efficiently and cost effectively.


The services -- called iReturn Merchant Service and iReturn.com -- will be available in the fall.


IReturn Merchant Service, which is targeted to e-tailers with annual sales of more than $25 million, will be embedded into a merchant's Web site. If customers who have made purchases on an e-tailer's site decide to return them, they click on a return icon that presents their most recent purchases. They then click on the items they want to return.


"Whatever the return policy is that's been established by that merchant for that particular type of merchandise, options will appear on the screen," said Kim Parks, senior vice president and general manager of the e-commerce strategic business unit at Stamps.com. "For example, if the item that the customer is returning is apparel, then maybe the choices for the reason it is being returned relate to size and color."


After the customers learn what their return options are, they can print a shipping label and select the shipping services of a variety of carriers, including United Parcel Service, U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, Airborne Express, Yellow Freight and DHL.


While the system is designed to offer an easy way to return products, it also will help merchants track their inventory. For example, information on the reason for a return will be dynamically fed into the shipping label so that the "product goes back to the location where the merchant wants it to be sent," said Parks. "All returns do not have to necessarily be aggregated at a warehouse." An item that is not damaged, for example, might be returned to inventory or sent to an outlet to be sold at a discounted price.


The system also will provide the e-tailer with real-time inbound tracking and reporting, allowing them to eliminate the "surprise effect, when you don't know how many returns are going to be returned on your back dock every day," said Parks.


IReturn.com is targeted to companies with under $25 million in annual sales and will allow these companies to link their Web sites to www.ireturn.com. When customers want to return something, the e-tailer will direct them to the ireturn site where they can click on the e-tailer's icon. This automatically enforces the e-tailers return and exchange policies and allows the customers to generate shipping labels from the vendor. E-tailers can also perform tracking and reporting.


Parks said Stamps.com decided it wanted to offer a return service because as e-commerce grows, returns are becoming a bigger problem for online merchants.


"This year, online merchants are more prepared than ever for the surge in holiday shopping with elegant storefronts, solid inventory choice and streamlined fulfillment processes," she said. "However, many have yet to conquer the costly and frustrating customer experience related to returning and exchanging merchandise."


Indeed, according to a recent Jupiter Communications survey in which 2,000 Internet shoppers ranked their top 12 sources of dissatisfaction with e-commerce Web sites, the fifth-greatest concern was returning merchandise. Jupiter also found that 40 percent of those surveyed indicated they would buy more online if they could return items easily.


While no prices have yet been set, Parks said Stamps.com will offer volume-based transaction pricing.

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