• United States

Returning holiday gifts

Jan 13, 20034 mins
Enterprise Applications

*Assist Cornerstone aims to help e-tailers with returns

By most measures, 2002 was a good year for online sales.  E-commerce spending totaled about $13 billion, up almost 30% from 2001, according to comScore Networks.  Having done much of my holiday shopping online, I certainly feel I did my fair share to boost the e-commerce numbers.

So the holidays are now over, and some buyers are looking to return items they purchased online.  A big factor in whether or not these customers continue to buy from an e-tailer is how easy it is to return an item.  Unfortunately for the e-tailer, handling returns is no small (or cheap) task.  But software due to come out this quarter will make the process of returns – known as reverse logistics – easier to manage.

Assist Cornerstone recently announced an update to its multichannel commerce software, called AssistV9.  It includes the Assist WebStore tool, which offers a reverse logistics module for effectively handling customer returns.  Engineered based on customer and market demands, the reverse logistics module provides a Web-based, self-service functionality that can dramatically reduce the costly process of order returns.

Geri Spieler, a GartnerG2 analyst who specializes in retail service, helped to design the business specifications as well as the technical architecture for AssistV9.  Spieler estimates that the cost of using the Internet for the front end processing of a return is about $8. Relative to the $35 cost of an all-manual return process (i.e., lots of human interaction), $8 seems like a bargain. However, costs can be pushed lower when the overall return process is better managed, as with AssistV9.

The reverse logistics engine built into AssistV9 collects information that not only automates the return, but also improves communication with the manufacturer of the item being returned.  For the e-tailer, this action can lead to a better relationship with and lower costs from the manufacturer.

For example, suppose I buy an appliance online – a toaster.  I get my toaster and find it doesn’t work.  There seems to be something wrong with the temperature control gauge.  I want to make a return, and my e-tailer has implemented the AssistV9 solution.

I can contact my e-tailer via a Web site.  This saves a call to a call center, saving the e-tailer money.  On the Web site, I can say that I want to return my toaster and can choose either a refund, store credit or product exchange.  I also can describe the apparent problem with my toaster, which the e-tailer can pass along to the manufacturer, who can see if there is a defect in the product line, or if this is a single product with a problem. 

I get a return-shipping label, which returns the product directly to the manufacturer, and the e-tailer doesn’t need to touch it.  Because the manufacturer has already been clued into the problem, that company knows what to do with the toaster when it comes back.  There’s no need for a separate investigation on the manufacturer’s part. 

All in all, both the e-tailer and the manufacturer have more information and more control over the returns.  Actions like this improve the relationship between the two companies, and perhaps the e-tailer can even get more favorable pricing for his wares. 

From my perspective as the customer, I am happy to have the choice of how I want my return handled. This certainly improves my experience and my satisfaction level, which will keep me coming back to this e-store.

The goal of AssistV9 is to increase the touch points with the customer.  This offers more times to provide a favorable impression of the online store, which keeps them coming back for more.  Isn’t that what online sales is all about?

AssistV9 has other nice features for a complete e-commerce solution.  In addition to the reverse logistics module, there’s web-based reporting for critical business intelligence; an extensive sales analysis tool for inventory forecasting; a customer relationship portal, which provides insight to all customer interactions; and, full shopping cart capabilities to build, deploy and manage scalable e-commerce solutions.  AssistV9 enters beta testing this quarter, and is expected to ship during the second quarter of 2003.

Linda Musthaler is vice president of Currid & Company.  You can write to her at