Just ahead of the holiday shopping season, Walmart is trying to make it easier for its online shoppers to return products to third-party sellers as the battle with Amazon intensifies.
Starting this fall, customers buying items from third parties on Walmart.com will be able to print shipping labels directly from the website and clearly see the return policies for individual items online, according to a memo sent to sellers and obtained by CNBC.
Sellers on Walmart’s marketplace will soon be able to use the company’s “‘Returns Shipping Service,’ which offers special discounted shipping rates,” the memo said. Sellers will still have the ability to to set returns windows and shipping fees. (See a full copy of the memo below.)
The announcement comes nearly a year after Amazon’s changes to its returns and refunds processes sparked outrage from third-party sellers. CNBC reported that Amazon was making it easier for consumers to send items back, but it would be at the merchant’s expense. At the time, one seller said Amazon’s new policies would “totally crush small businesses.”
Amazon has also been called out for banning shoppers — those who return too many items — from its website, sometimes without giving them a reason why.
While Walmart’s e-commerce marketplace is smaller than Amazon’s, it has been adding more and more items to its website, especially now that the retailer owns Jet.com, bringing in Marc Lore in to head Walmart’s e-commerce division. Lore co-founded Jet and previously sold his start-up Quidsi to Amazon in 2010.
One major difference between the Amazon and Walmart marketplaces is that Amazon offers a “fulfilled by Amazon” option, where the company helps with shipping and returns. Walmart sellers, in turn, have been responsible for their own policies.
Things appear to be shifting, however, with Walmart telling sellers Thursday it wants to play a role in “significantly improv[ing] the return experience for both customers and … marketplace sellers.”
This could bode well for Walmart, which is increasingly the marketplace that professional sellers on Amazon are using. Some 36 percent of merchants on Amazon said that in 2018 they plan to expand their sales to Walmart, according to a survey by Feedvisor of 1,200 professional Amazon sellers this year.
Other marketplaces sellers plan to expand to in 2018
Walmart also said in the memo obtained by CNBC that it plans to at some point to utilize its fleet of hundreds of stores across the U.S. to make returns less of a hassle.
“We will share more information in the near future on how we are thinking about that,” the company wrote. “No other retailer has the size and scale to provide this level of convenience.”
Now working at Walmart, Lore has played a pivotal role in the company’s revamp of its website, which now includes a landing page for apparel from Hudson’s Bay-owned Lord & Taylor.
Walmart shares are up about 10 percent from a year ago, bringing the retailer’s market cap to $265.7 billion. That compares with Amazon, which has watched its stock climb about 90 percent over the same period. Amazon has a market cap of $920.1 billion.
Here is the full memo, which was sent to sellers and obtained by CNBC:
More and more, we have found that a great product return experience is a top contributor to overall customer satisfaction and repeat purchases. Our customers expect a consistent and easy experience regardless of whether an item is sold by Walmart or a marketplace seller. We also know returns can be an unwieldy process for you. We are excited to announce our plans to launch an enhanced Marketplace Returns Program this fall, which will significantly improve the return experience for both customers and you, our marketplace sellers.
What is improving for customers?
• Customers will be able to clearly see the return policy for each marketplace item on individual item pages.
• Customers will be able to print shipping labels directly from their Walmart.com accounts, as long as their returns are within your specified return window.
• Our customer service team will also be able to help facilitate returns in accordance with your requirements.
What is improving for sellers?
• New functionality will make it easier, faster and more efficient for you to manage returns on our platform.
• As a seller, you will continue to be able to configure the return policy for every item you sell, including the settings for restocking fees, shipping carriers, return windows and shipping fees.
• You will also have the option to use our Returns Shipping Service, which offers special discounted shipping rates.
And, this is just the first step. We have a big opportunity to use our 4,700 stores across the country to make marketplace returns even easier. We will share more information in the near future on how we are thinking about that. No other retailer has the size and scale to provide this level of convenience. We think it’ll be a game changer for you, our sellers, to be able to provide a better customer experience to our joint customers.
We look forward to working with you to launch this new program. At this point, no action on your part is required. We will have additional details to share in the coming weeks.
— CNBC’s Ari Levy contributed to this reporting.