Royal Mail is preparing to launch a new parcel tracking feature for its returns service, Packetpost, from early next year.
The British postal operator has seen growing demand from retailers for better visibility for products being returned by their customers, while consumers are also looking for more reassurance when returning items.
Packetpost Returns with Tracking is set to launch in February 2013, offering a system for retailers to generate returns labels with tracking numbers, which consumers and retailers alike can access to monitor items returned via post offices.
Roger Morris, Royal Mail’s head of core network parcels, told Post&Parcel yesterday that as the returns process becomes increasingly important in the home delivery market, retailers need a better idea of what it coming back to them and when, while consumers increasingly expect a quick reimbursement of funds for their returned item.
“With this new service, the consumer will get a receipt with their tracking number when they take an item back to the post office, and they’ll immediately be able to log on to the Royal Mail website and start tracking that item,” he said.
“The retailer will know exactly what they have coming back to them, and when it will arrive, so they can start their process early and credit their customer’s account as soon as possible.”
As awareness builds about the importance of a good returns process for growing online sales, Royal Mail says retailers and consumers alike are clamouring for a fully tracked returns process
Royal Mail sees the returns process as increasingly important going forward, as more and more customers become confident ordering items online, to the point where they will buy a range of items and send back those that do not meet their needs.
Already a fairly established consumer trend in the United States, it is seen as particularly important for product areas like clothing and shoes, which are showing some of the highest growth rates for sales in the UK ecommerce market at the moment.
Morris suggested to Post&Parcel that there was not necessarily a strong awareness among all retailers regarding the full benefits possible from running the right kind of returns service – and the impact on their brand if a good returns service is not available.
“I think there is probably a lot more retailers out there that have not quite grasped the importance of offering a free returns services,” he said.
“Now they are going to use their living room as a changing room, consumers will want an easy process when they send an item back – and the retailers that provide that will win their future business.”
Free for consumers
Royal Mail’s annual consumer trends survey – Delivery Matters – found last year that more than 20% of home shoppers were returning items, and where the returns process was seen as difficult, 63% of shoppers were unlikely to repeat-buy from the same online retailer.
The research also stated that 74% of consumers would be unlikely to use an online retailer again if they are charged for the return postage. Morris said a key advantage of using Royal Mail for a returns service was that the low cost could be absorbed by a retailer in order to provide that free service to consumers.
The forthcoming Packetpost tracking feature comes as part of a number of improvements Royal Mail is making to its home delivery services, particularly with a view to ecommerce growth.
This month the company upgraded its online shipping label tool, Despatch Manager Online, to have better integration with retailer websites including an automated interface feature, while next month sees the full roll-out of Royal Mail’s Delivery to Neighbour service, which will see parcels delivered to recipient neighbours if they are not at home to receive them.
Other plans at Royal Mail coming up include a redesign of the company’s fulfillment portfolio – to simplify the product range and make it easier to use – which should happen in April.
Source: James Cartledge, Post&Parcel