NEW YORK: Walmart is shifting the battleground in e-commerce by utilising its extensive range of physical outlets to address a particular pain point of online buying – returns.

Up to now the focus has been on speed of delivery, with Amazon raising the bar from next day to within hours in some cities and exploring the use of drones to facilitate the process.

The return path has attracted less attention, but with as much as 30% of online purchases being returned on some estimates – more when looking at certain categories like clothing and footwear – it is clearly an issue for online retailers to tackle.

Walmart’s Mobile Express Returns service is due to launch next month and will allow consumers to return items bought on through any of Walmart’s 4,700 stores; the service will expand in 2018 to cover third-party sellers on’s online marketplace, TechCrunch reported.

The procedure involves the purchaser logging the return on the Walmart app and generating a QR code, before taking the item to a store where they scan the code and hand the item to staff on a “fast track” line.

A person can expect to be in and out of a store in about 30 seconds, although Walmart will hope that having got people in store they can be persuaded to buy something else.

Customers “will no longer have to send off their product and wait days for an online return to be credited”, the company said, adding that since 90% of Americans live within ten miles of a Walmart store, “it’s never been faster or easier to make an online return”.

The timing of the launch is crucial, coming ahead of the busy holiday shopping period.

“Time has become the new currency in retail as much as saving money,” said Daniel Eckert, SVP, Walmart Services and Digital Acceleration.

“It’s thinking about how we can create a more seamless shopping experience,” he added. “We didn’t appreciate how sophisticated we had to be.”

For damaged goods and some personal care products, the retailing giant has opted for a blunter approach and will simply issue a refund without requiring a return.

It is not concerned about the potential for fraud in these cases. “We have technology to help those things,” said Eckert.

Sourced from TechCrunch, Financial Times, Business Insider; additional content by WARC staff