The consumer splurged a little this holiday season - they purchased more, they purchased more often, and they did it across channel. Many consumers will be driven back to physical stores to either return or exchange their 'gifts.' Businesses usually prepare themselves for returns and exchanges - and most of them do a fairly decent job in engaging the consumer. The opportunity here is to do more than 'fairly decent.'
We ran into an interesting predicament ourselves as we ordered a TV stand online from a 'significant' retailer. We purchased it because of the 'big brand,' the 'perceived convenience of multi-channel,' and a timely email. Our TV stand arrived on time but was missing a couple of minor parts. Unperturbed, we drove over to their local store to see if we could get the parts or perhaps even exchange it at the store.
No such luck! We were told to call their toll free number and schedule a pick up with a package company. After a lot of needless banter, we chose to return it to the online division of the 'significant' retailer and decided to pick up a similar stand from a competitor. Of course, the 'significant' retailer continued with their barrage of emails - first thanking us for the purchase, then asking us about our experience, then apologizing for the inconvenience, followed by numerous other offers. We were even engaged on Facebook for our opinion.
Not to be outdone, a major online supplier of college textbooks got my son to purchase his books for college. They got him to notice them by advertising their 'convenience' on Facebook. The books arrived on time, but three out of seven were significantly damaged during shipping! We called (and called), we emailed (at least five times), we even poked them on Facebook - we finally called the credit card company to get their attention. Only then did this book merchant respond. They apologized and offered to exchange the books but with a small condition. They had to receive the books before they could ship us a new set! With college starting within days, the exchange seemed difficult, so we decided to return the books and pay a premium at the college bookstore.
I visited my 'favorite' financial institution thrice in the last week - they were busy because of the 'holiday' crowd. They were short staffed (for the foot traffic) and I waited for a long time like everyone else. It was humorous to watch their reps pitch online banking - they seemed to read a script to a consumer that was already irritated by the long wait.
Today consumers have many choices to purchase what they want. They can order online, order from a catalog, or simply go to the store. Whether you are using social media, the web, or simply going to the store, companies have made it easier for the consumer to find the items they are looking for. They need to strive to make it just as easy to return things as well. If a consumer purchases something online, and they don't like it when they receive it, they will most likely go to the local store to try and return it. As easy as that sounds a lot of companies do not operate like that.
Businesses should step up to create opportunities to engage with their consumers - even if it was a return. If a person receives a gift that they don't want, don't make it hard for them to interact with you. Treat the return like a 'purchase' transaction - apologizing to the consumer about the experience and try to help the consumer as much as possible.
All companies have the challenge of connecting with consumers; turning someone away does more to hurt the relationship you're attempting to build. The consumer, whether they are window shopping or purchasing doesn't care about the channel that they bought from - if the labels are the same, why does the channel matter?
Allow your channels work in harmony, focus on the consumer and close your loopholes. As far as the consumer is concerned your different channels should work as one unit. A satisfied consumer will feel respected, and will come back. Try and make them become a future customer.