U.S. Postal Service Introduces E-Commerce Return System

The U.S. Postal Service, once considered a potential “victim” of the Internet’s speed and convenience, has announced a new system to help consumers hurdle one of the last barriers to online shopping — merchandise returns.

The U.S. Postal Service, once considered a potential “victim” of the Internet’s speed and convenience, has announced a new system to help consumers hurdle one of the last barriers to online shopping — merchandise returns.

Returns@ease promises to facilitate returns of unwanted Internet-purchased merchandise with just a few keystrokes.

First, a customer will alert the online retailer of the need to return an item. Then the retailer will provide the customer, via the Web, a merchandise return label that the customer prints and applies to the package being returned.

Ultimately, the package can simply be given to a letter-carrier, dropped in a collection box, or taken to the post office.

To make things easy on retailers who want to use the new service, the USPS has merchandise return permits available at all post offices. Registration application, programming codes and guidelines for using the service can be obtained online at USPSPriorityMail.com.

The service will not require additional hardware or software.

Key Is Convenience

“This is part of our continuing effort to be customer-friendly for shippers and shoppers,” USPS manager, communications, expedited package services Gerry McKiernan told the E-Commerce Times. “For the shipper it’s an instant inventory control device. Companies need to know what’s going out and what’s coming in.”

The first company to take advantage of the new system is Altrec.com, a retailer devoted to outdoor enthusiasts that sells apparel and other items.

“We believe there have been a couple of impediments toe-commerce becoming more mainstream,” said Altrec CTO David Geller. “A year ago it was credit card security concerns, but people seem to have gotten over that. We want to remove as many obstacles as easily as possible to make the process of buying things on our site a no-brainer.”

Prior to signing up with Returns@ease, Altrec.com customers had to call a customer service representative at an 800 number, explain the reason for return, manually create a mailing label and arrange for pickup. The new system allows customers to schedule the return merchandise authorization at any time of day or night, print the label on their own printer, and instantly receive a return merchandise authorization number.

The USPS And E-Commerce

McKiernan told the E-Commerce Times that approximately 500 businesses have shown “serious interest” in the new system.

“E-commerce is an ongoing process for the U.S. Postal Service, and frankly, there’s much more to come from us in that area,” he said. “With online sales expected to reach $18 billion (US$) in 1999 and grow to $33 billion in the year 2000, clearly this is a market we’re paying close attention to.”

“We’re responding to a market phenomenon and no one knows where it will end,” McKiernan added.

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