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Walmart streamlines returns process with new mobile effort

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Eager to streamline the often frustrating task of merchandise returns, Walmart will introduce Mobile Express Returns. Starting Nov. 9, the new service will enable online customers to use the Walmart app to begin the returns process — before even heading to their local store.

Here’s how it works: Customers follow prompts on the Walmart app to find their transaction and pinpoint the merchandise they want to return. Once completed, they can go to their local Walmart store, and enter the Mobile Express Lane.

Here, they scan a QR code displayed on their Walmart app directly onto on a dedicated card reader. The refund is credited back to the shopper’s payment account by the next day, according to Walmart.

The returns process, which the company estimates will take 35 seconds or less, can be completed across Walmart’s more than 4,700 locations.

The discount giant plans to streamline the process even further in December, when it enables customers to instantly receive their refund without even making a trip to the store to physically return the item. This service will initially be available on select household items, such as shampoo and color cosmetics, and others items to be added over time, Walmart said.

“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 VP, 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.”

To ensure that shoppers don’t abuse the system and keep merchandise they have already been reimbursed for, the discounter has invested in technology to make sure the service isn’t exploited and even detect shoppers who might be abusing the privilege, according to The Street.

Looking ahead, store purchases will be integrated into the program in early 2018. The company also is creating a similar streamlined returns process for items sold by third-party sellers on Walmart.com, according to the discounter.

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Costco rolls out expanded delivery options amid Q4 results

BY Marianne Wilson

ISSAQUAH, Wash. — Costco Wholesale Club is upping its home delivery game for online food orders as the grocery delivery market continues to heat up.

The retailer has introduced a new two-day delivery service, called CostcoGrocer, for customers across the United States (with the exception of those in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico.). The service, which has a fee of $3, offers delivery of non-perishable foods and sundries, with about 500 items available. The delivery fee is waived for orders over $75.

Costco also is expanding its same-day delivery partnership with Instacart to more markets. The program, which includes both dry and fresh foods, is available at some 375 Costco locations. It also is being expanded to include more products.

Costco's moves to expand online delivery come as Walmart and Target are also upping their games. On Oct. 3, Walmart announced it had acquired Parcel Inc., a last-mile delivery startup that specializes in delivery of perishable items and general merchandise to customers in New York City. Target recently expanded the rollout of its next-day delivery service of household essentials, Target Restock, to eight new markets.

“There’ll be a number of additional U.S. locations planned – added between now and the end of calendar 2018 as our partnership expands,” Costco CFO Richard Galanti said during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call.

The call accompanied the wholesaler’s posting of better-than-expected fourth-quarter sales results, which notably saw e-commerce sales rise 21% over the year-ago period.

Net sales for the 17-week fourth quarter ended Sept. 3 rose 15.8% to $41.36 billion, compared with $35.73 billion in the year-ago period, which had 16 weeks. Total same-store sales rose 6.1%, with a 6.5% increase in the United States and a 4.9% increase in Canada. International same-store sales rose 5.6%.

Costco's net income for the quarter was $919 million, compared with $779 million last year. 

Net sales for the 53-week fiscal year rose 8.7% to $126.17 billion. Net income was $2.68 billion, compared with $2.35 billion last year.

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Walmart’s Google Home shopping partnership goes live

BY Marianne Wilson

BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Walmart has officially gone live with voice shopping on the Google Home platform.

As announced in August, the discounter is partnering with Google to allow its customers to shop for Walmart items through voice via Google Assistant, the search giant's online shopping platform that lives on its smart speaker. On Wednesday, the partnership went live, with more than 2 million Walmart items available through voice.

(Read more about the partnership here.)

In addition, Walmart noted in a blog on its website that Google is launching the Google Home Mini, a voice-activated speaker that sells for only $49.

"Everyone should have access to a virtual assistant, especially when it can be a tool to help make shopping more convenient," Walmart stated. "That’s one of the reasons why we’re excited about the launch of the Google Home Mini. With a price tag of $49, it offers an affordable option for consumers who want to experience how a voice assistant can help them with everyday tasks – from getting answers to hands-free shopping.”

Walmart is offering an incentive to encourage shoppers to use voice shopping. Any customer who buys a Google Home or Google Home Mini from Walmart will receive up to $25 off (Between Oct. 4, 2017 and Jan. 15, 2018) a Walmart order when they link their Walmart account to Google Express. By linking their accounts, customers save time and money by receiving recommendations based on their previous purchases made in Walmart stores and on its website, the retailer said.

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