March 6, 2007, 12:00 AM’s refund guarantee program moves closer to roll out

Assurz’s program offering refunds on online purchases is closer to launch after a successful holiday pilot, says CEO Steve Hoffman.

Assurz Inc.’s program offering 100% refunds to subscribers for returns of any online purchases is one-step closer to roll-out following a successful pilot during the Christmas shopping season, says CEO Steve Hoffman. Assurz also plans to market the buyer’s assurance program directly to merchants as well as marketing it as an enhancement that affinity groups can offer their accountholders.

Assurz tested the program during the Christmas shopping season with a few hundred shoppers. “In general, it was very well received,” says Steve Hoffman, CEO. “A lot of people have remarked how they felt significantly more comfortable and that they were inclined to do more shopping than they would have otherwise. And while we didn’t have very many returns, for the ones that we had, everyone seemed to be very happy with the service.”

Assurz is still analyzing results of the test and plans to release more detailed findings in upcoming weeks, Hoffman says. The company also plans a second and final pilot with short-term subscriptions in upcoming weeks to test pricing models, messaging and other elements of the program. That test will be conducted with a web site that specializes in women’s fashion and has millions of readers, he says, without disclosing the name.

The Assurz program guarantees that subscribers will get all their money back if they decide to return within 90 days any item purchased from an online retailer. Assurz covers the purchase price, tax, shipping and re-stocking fees and provides packaging materials, if needed. “There is no hassle,” Hoffman says. “As long as they can give us something back in working order, we’re fine with that.”

In addition to the direct-to-consumers program, Assurz will distribute the program through merchant partners that can offer the guarantee on a per-transaction basis, similar to extended warranties on electronics, or bundle it with services they already sell, Hoffman says.

To that end, Assurz hired Gregg Gumbinger, former vice president of business development at payment company, to work with independent sales organizations and merchant acquirers to offer the program to online retailers as a value-added service, Hoffman says. Merchants and acquirers also have the option to co-brand the service with their own logos.

Retailers can pay the whole costs of the program or charge the consumer. “I expected some merchants to be keen to cover it themselves, but we’re finding that well over half the merchants we’re chatting with want to do that,” Hoffman says. “They want to offer it to all their customers all the time.”

Merchants can negotiate with Assurz about what percentage of the refund they will pay on a returned item. Returned products not accepted by Assurz-affiliated retailers or retailers not participating in the program will be liquidated in a secondary channel so they don’t compete head on with merchants, the company says.

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