FedEx Eyes Package Return Gains

Federal Express Corp. lifted the covers off its revamped FedEx NetReturn system on Monday, promising the package-return upgrade will be available to customers for an early November release -- just in time to help users avoid the pitfalls of post-holiday online sales returns.

Sporting a new feature that allows consumers to print package-return labels from their personal computers, FedEx NetReturn has also been enhanced to give customers locations and maps to nearby drop-off sites to return packages, according to Jeff Maddock, manager of reverse logistics at the Memphis, Tenn.-based delivery company. FedEx Express has 44,000 drop-off sites in the United States.

Maddock said it was no secret that the timing of the 3-year-old FedEx NetReturn's new release will coincide with the burst of online shopping and spending over the holiday months that wreaked package-return havoc for many Web merchants and customers last year during January and early February.

Should an end-user encounter obstacles or resistance regarding the return of a purchase or gift, the awe of buying goods over the Internet can quickly change from wonderment to distaste, said Jack Staff, chief Internet economist at Redwood City, Calif.-based Zona Research.

"Customers are wowed by the online buying experience. But what many [e-tailers] don't realize is if you have a screw up in that chain, you have the exact opposite of that reaction happen," Staff said. "All of a sudden it starts costing money. Even if you're reimbursed, it's a hassle and it's not convenient."

Staff said the "serious issue" of hampered package returns being addressed by many leading Web sites, by means including new ZIP code identifiers and other detailed tracking measures, can have a tremendous economic impact for packages being sent to the wrong place.

"People want to get their stuff as quickly as possibly on the Web," Staff added.

"It's very important to get it right the first time."

The Internet-based returns management system ties in e-tailers' back-end and inventory systems with the parcel tracking and distribution FedEx return process. However, if a customer opts to stay with FedEx NetReturn's original dispatch service, a FedEx Express courier will arrive to secure the package from the customer and affix a return label to the location of the merchant's decision.

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