September 16, 2014, 9:20 AM

Sears adds in-vehicle returns and exchanges to curbside options

The retailer says it’s aiming to make every part of the shopping cycle more convenient.

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Sears Holdings Corp. is stepping up its curb appeal on the cusp of the holiday shopping season by adding returns and exchange capabilities to its curbside offerings. Starting today, consumers who are members of Sears’ free loyalty program can drive to a Sears store, park in a designated parking spot and return or exchange a product in five minutes or less without unbuckling their seat belts.

In-vehicle returns and exchanges is an extension of the in-vehicle pickup service Sears launched in February. “We know millions of members use [buy online, pickup in-store] every year. This takes the member journey through to fulfillment and post-purchase to make sure members are satisfied,” says Leena Munjal, senior vice president of customer experience and integrated retail at Sears Holdings. Curbside options are only available to members of Sears’ Shop Your Way loyalty program, which is free to join.

If a customer wants to return or exchange an item, she logs into her Shop Your Way account online or through the Shop Your Way or Sears mobile app. The account holds a record of all her purchases, and the consumer clicks to indicate which items she wants to return for a refund or exchange, providing any relevant exchange details, such as the new size she wants of an exchanged item. Purchases made with Sears Marketplace sellers are ineligible. Sears sends her a text or e-mail message after it confirms that the desired product is available in the store and can service the exchange. Only products carried in the preferred store can be returned to the store.

The consumer drives to the store, parks in a designated in-vehicle parking spot,  launches the Shop Your Way or Sears mobile app and taps the “Shop’In” button to alert the store that she’s arrived. Tapping “Shop’In” also launches a five-minute ticker. An associate comes to the car to take any returned merchandise, or brings the replacement product to swap. The shopper gets an e-mail confirmation of her refund to her credit card; the associate can also provide a paper receipt of the credit if requested. If the shopper is returning an item she purchased in store with cash, check or debit, Sears mails a check for the refund amount to her home.

The associate may ask to check the consumer’s I.D. to make sure he is delivering the item to the right shopper.    

Once the five minutes are up, the app asks the shopper for feedback on the visit. It was from this feedback on in-vehicle pickup that the idea for in-vehicle returns and exchanges came, Munjal says. “The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. It was coming from moms with kids in the car saying how convenient it was. We knew we were onto something that connected right away,” she says. “Some shoppers wrote kind of jokingly that it’d be great if they could do a return this way and we thought ‘hey, we can do that.’”

Munjal says the returns and exchange program has been in pilot mode at some stores already, and she expects that by rolling it out to all Sears mainline stores nationwide now the retailer will have any kinks or hiccups in the process fixed ahead of the holiday rush.

Sears is No. 5 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide and No. 9 in the 2015 Mobile 500

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