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30% of UK retailers will enable customers to use the web to return unwanted goods bought in a store, according to a survey conducted by retail specialists Martec International for Omnico, the leading software and services company enabling omni-channel experiences.

At present, nearly three quarters of UK retailers (74%) do not offer this service, further inconveniencing customers who have to make another journey to a store if they want to return an unwanted item originally bought from a bricks and mortar store.

This contrasts starkly with the 65% of retailers in the survey who allow online purchases to be returned via any of their stores, with a further 23% saying they also plan to invest in this capability.

The research, which surveyed 31 UK retailers, shows how retailers see omni-channel services, such as making returns easier, as central to the future of their industry but recognise they currently lack the technology required.

“Retailers increasingly understand that returns can be a make-or-break interaction with customers and require a far more flexible approach,” said Mel Taylor, CEO of Omnico.

“Customers become frustrated and annoyed when they cannot return what they bought in a store through an online touchpoint, as they know they can do the reverse. Customer expectations are increasing all the time, and retailers who fail to invest in systems that give them the necessary flexibility and omni-channel integration will definitely fall behind. True customer loyalty is built on outstanding customer service.”

The survey also found that while the majority (71%) of retailers already operate click-and-collect services and a further 10% plan to, many undervalue the extra sales generated when customers come into stores to collect their goods. Only 6% of respondents said the reason they would invest in omni-channel technology is because click-and-collect customers buy more.

Among survey respondents the uplift to in-store sales from click-and-collect amounted to 3.9% of total online sales, although it appears that most were generated by customers noticing items they liked, rather than through the recommendation of staff.

“Even though we see the UK retail industry making substantial moves towards true omni-channel service, there is still a measure of complacency,” added Taylor. “Most retailers lack a consistent view of the customer across all channels.

“For example, very few retailers make the most of additional opportunities with click-and-collect. Goods are often unidentifiable to staff, who don’t receive alerts when those goods are going to be collected, so they cannot engage with customers in a meaningful way that leads to other sales at the pick-up point.

“Retailers need omni-channel solutions that are genuinely integrated and generate the maximum number of sales by enabling staff to say ‘yes’ more often to customers.”

In conducting this research, Martec and Omnico established a sale benchmark for retailers’ capabilities. These comprise four channel levels: Single; Siloed; Disparate, and Unified. The majority of those surveyed are currently at level two, or siloed. This is where, generally, the retailers have a number of sales channels but operations are not integrated or consolidated across them.

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