- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2000

Buy.com has been getting a lot of fan mail lately.
The California-based electronic retailer is using a new, faster return system created by United Parcel Service (UPS) that has cut the process of returning products from two weeks to two minutes.
"It's had an amazing impact on our customers," said Travis Fagan, vice president of customer support at Buy.com, adding that customers are actually contacting them to compliment them on the process and give positive feedback.
Under Buy.com's previous system, it could take customers up to two weeks to receive the proper return label and authorization to send unwanted items back to the company. Customers would have to wait for the label to arrive in the mail before they could return the items.
By using the new UPS electronic returns system, Buy.com gives customers the option of downloading return labels from their computer and printing them out. Customers then label the packages being returned and either bring them to UPS locations or have drivers pick them up. The packages can be tracked directly from the merchant's site or from UPS's site (www.ups.com).
The UPS technology is answering one of the biggest complaints by on-line consumers: inefficient on-line return processes.
Few shoppers actually return items purchased on line, but those who do are so dissatisfied with the process that it affects future on-line purchases, according to a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
"It's the largest inhibitor" to purchasing on line, said David Schatsky, research director at Jupiter Communications, an Internet research firm. "The returning process was not as well thought out as selling was."
About 40 percent of on-line purchasers have wanted to return a product purchased on line but decided that it was too much of a hassle to do so, the PricewaterhouseCoopers survey said.
So now companies are trying to get a firm grip on new advances in return systems as they gear up for the $9 billion expected to be spent in on-line retail this holiday season.
Mr. Fagan concedes Buy.com's policy was less than efficient before it began using UPS's process in June. It's now the first company to have a strategic partnership with UPS for the return system.
The electronic returns have cut Buy.com's return-related incoming calls by 40 percent and have reduced the waiting time to return a product.
Implementing the UPS program in the summer, well before the holiday season, gave the company a chance to iron out any kinks and learn the UPS application.
"If we hadn't started in June, we would have made mistakes at the expense of our customers when they needed us the most during the holiday season." Mr. Fagan said.
At times, the company did got backed up with its returns because some customers didn't want to download the labels on their computers and wanted Buy.com do it manually for them.
UPS is now rolling out its electronic-returns system to large and small on-line business-to-business and business-to-consumer companies. The delivery company won't disclose the names of the other companies it's working with.
There's also many companies that have sprung up to help eliminate some of the pain with on-line returns.
Return.com, a partnership between Innotrac Corp. and Mail Boxes Etc., allows consumers to get a return authorization number and return label printed from their computer and then return the product at a Mail Boxes Etc. location or through another mail carrier.
ReturnBuy.com, based in Ashburn, Va., has developed a system by which it accepts the returned item, credits consumers' accounts, assesses damage to the merchandise and then resells it through on-line auctions like EBay.
The Return Exchange in Irvine, Calif., and ReturnCentral.com also have developed systems to streamline the on-line return process.
And while consumers want easier return policies, the new systems may take some getting used to by customers, Mr. Schatsky said.
These companies are "too new and immature to be widely adopted by on-line consumers," he said and suggests on-line merchants take a closer look at the companies and their success after the holidays.

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