RealTime IT News

Going Postal

[Ottawa, ONTARIO] First you shop till you drop. Then you return everything. Such is the fate of the seasoned holiday shopper.

Further complicating matters is the fact that the shopping habits of holiday gift buyers are divided between bricks-and-mortar retailers and online e-tailers. Inevitably, people will need to return or exchange a portion of their purchases. As a result, Canada Post is endeavoring to facilitate the online returns process.

As part of an effort to boost e-business revenues to $400 million (CDN) over the next five years, Canada Post recently launched the eReturns Management Service, a program that enables Internet shoppers to obtain credit or exchange and return products they purchased from e-tailers that are participating in the program. Shoppers can go to the e-tailing Web site, fill out an exchange, credit or returns form, and download a prepaid Xpresspost label which they affix to their unwanted parcel. Customers can then deposit the parcel at any mailbox or post office for return to the online retailer's warehouse. Presently, Chapters Online Inc. is a participating dealer.

"It is important to us that our customers are able to return unwanted merchandise quickly and conveniently," said David Hainline, COO and executive vice president at Chapters Online. "By teaming up with Canada Post and using their eReturns Management Service, our customers have the ability to track their orders from the time they mail their returned item to the time it is received in our warehouse."

While online retailers have been careful not to make promises they cannot keep this holiday season, they still have a number of challenges to overcome before shoppers can be confident that purchasing gifts through an e-tailer is the way to go. This year, last-minute shoppers who wanted to buy their gifts online often found they were out of luck; some last-minute holiday gift buying deadlines were as early as December 17th.

Still, online retailers have noticed increased traffic to their sites this season. In mid-December, the Media Metrix Online Shopping Index found a 31.2 percent increase in visitors over the same period last year, signifying that shoppers are indeed warming up to the idea of buying on the Net. The trick for e-commerce sites, experts say, is to ensure a positive online shopping experience for all.

"Online shoppers need a simple and hassle-free way to return merchandise they may not want to keep, and we know returns can be quite a challenge for e-tailers," said Daniel Sawaya, vice president of marketing at Canada Post. "Some consumers say the trouble of possibly needing to return unwanted merchandise may actually stop them from making an online purchase. We believe our returns management service will appeal to both the retailers and shoppers because it's as convenient as posting a letter, and it's very cost-effective."