The Limited cuts call volume with a new online returns technology

March 8, 2016 04:45 PM

The Limited has joined an increasing number of retailers taking returns online, and in the process reduced its returns-processing time and the number of customer inquiries to its call center, the head of e-commerce operations says.

The number of days customers take to return their unwanted goods has shrunk 15%, and shoppers’ call center inquiries about returns have declined 20% since The Limited installed technology from Narvar Returns in the fall, says Jason Acevedo, senior director of e-commerce operations for The Limited.

The new process helps complete returns faster and gets inventory back in rotation before it’s in a marked-down state, he says. “Also, the customers’ ability to handle their returns through self-service improves the customers’ experience and helps us manage labor costs at the call center,” says Acevedo, who did not disclose further details about the financial impact of the technology.

“Making returns easier is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but an expectation on the part of consumers,” Lauren Freedman, president of online retail research and consulting firm The E-tailing Group, says. “The Limited was behind the eight ball and catching up with others who have long offered these conveniences.”

Of 100 retailers surveyed in The E-tailing Group’s annual Mystery Shopper Study, 90% that operate bricks-and-mortar stores accepted online order returns in their stores, up from 80% during the 2014 holiday season. Retailers also increasingly used an online return center or email to enable e-commerce returns, with 61% doing so during the 2015 holiday season compared with 56% in the 2014 survey.

Here’s how the technology The Limited uses, called Narvar Returns, works: A shopper who wants to return an item logs into The Limited website, clicks on “return/exchanges” and is taken to a web page in which she enters her order number and billing ZIP code to call up order details.  The shopper selects the items to return, the reason for the return, whether she is returning by UPS or to a store, and prints out a return slip. The web page, run by Narvar, informs the shopper if she is within The Limited’s 60-day return deadline. The shopper then takes the return slip to a nearby store, which she can find on the web page, or puts it in the return package.

The shopper uses the number on her return slip to track the return online via the same web page;  it’s no longer necessary to redirect the customer to the UPS site for such information, Acevedo says.

“It’s a critical component for The Limited to remain relevant and give the shopper an experience she’s familiar with because companies like the Amazons of the world are providing these experiences,” Acevedo says. “It’s becoming pervasive.”

Prior to implementing Narvar Returns, The Limited included prepaid UPS labels inside product packages. It no longer does so, Acevedo says.

“Previously, shoppers who wanted to make a return would go to our website and try to initiate a return, but it wasn’t easy to figure out,” he says. “Often, they’d just call the call center. Our goal is to create one portal where they can get done what they need to.”

The Limited aims to expand its returns program this year by adding another shipping courier—the retailer currently uses UPS exclusively—and to analyze trends as to which products get returned, Acevedo says.

Later this year, The Limited aims to connect the returns process to its order management system to get a better handle on what items are being returned and when they’re arriving. The Limited uses Trade Global for order fulfillment. “We see an opportunity to further improve our back-end processing by leveraging this system,” Acevedo says.

The Limited feeds Narvar, a Software as a Service technology, its shipping, order and product catalog files  through an application programming interface, or API. Narvar is responsible for maintaining the returns portal on The Limited’s site. SaaS technology is hosted on the Internet by a vendor and made available to retailers for a subscription fee.   

Narvar—the name is a combination of the Swedish words for “when” and “where”—has more than 200 retail clients worldwide, including Anthropologie, Bonobos (No. 270 in the Internet Retailer 2015 Top 500 Guide), Nordstrom Inc. (No. 19), One Kings Lane (No. 106) and Sephora USA Inc. (No. 141). The vendor was founded two years ago by former executives at Apple, Target, Wal-Mart and Williams-Sonoma.





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