Streamlined, Secure Returns

Often, speed and security are a zero-sum game: You can exceed the speed CSWilson1010.jpglimit in order to get somewhere quickly, but you risk getting a ticket (or worse). When it comes to product returns, retailers need to get the speed/security balance just right. For customer service reasons, the process should be as quick and convenient as possible, but not at the expense of fraud detection or correctly updating transactional and inventory systems.

When Wilsons Leather implemented a new point-of-sale and back-office solutions suite from JDA, the retailer didn’t have to choose between speed and security with its returns: both improved markedly compared to the process with its previous system.

With a centralized server that now houses transaction data from all 120 stores in the chain, returns that used to take five to 10 minutes are now accomplished in less than one minute. Much of the time savings with the new system is due to the move from the previous paper-based returns system to one that only requires store associates to scan a barcode printed on a receipt. And because the new solutions have made the entire returns process more secure, Wilsons feels confident processing returns even when the customer doesn’t have the original receipt.

In addition, because of modifications the Wilsons IT team was able to accomplish with JDA’s more flexible system, the retailer now captures chainwide sales transactions in real time. As a result, Wilsons now sends out “flash” sales reports twice a day, alerting district managers and merchants about how stores and regions are performing against daily goals.

“We no longer have to wait for overnight reports, and by sending out flash sales at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., it gets the field people competitive,” says Scott Christian, director of information technology at Wilsons Leather. “They can see where they are in relation to other stores, and if they’re below, they’ll try harder to make their goal, because nobody wants to be the bottom store for the day.”

Improved System Flexibility
Wilsons Leather originally sought to replace its previous, highly customized POS system primarily because it was not PCI compliant. According to Christian, bringing the legacy system into compliance would have cost as much or more as a new solution. Wilsons piloted the JDA POS in one store in October 2008, then rolled out the system for a chainwide go-live at the end of April 2009.

The new system makes it much easier for Christian and his IT staff to customize the user experience. “One of the big changes is that the JDA POS is customizable by the user,” he notes. “It has a back-end dashboard to do things like configure what receipts look like, and even the sequence of POS transactions—such as if we want the demographics questions we ask to pop up first or last.”

For the rollout of the new system, Christian’s team configured the JDA system to “mimic the transaction flow of our old POS, so that the learning curve would be less for our associates,” he said.

Data Centralization Improves Speed and Security
One thing Wilsons did not want to mimic was its former returns process, which required customers to fill out a carbonless three-part form with their name, address and phone number. The paperwork was collected for anti-fraud purposes, and each form had to be franked and processed. Store associates also had to examine each receipt to determine the correct amount to be refunded.

With the new solution, if a customer wants to return an item and has the original receipt, the store associate just scans the barcode printed at the bottom of the receipt. The system first searches the server at the store itself, and if it doesn’t find the transaction there, it looks in the central server. If the customer doesn’t have the receipt with them, Wilsons associates can look up transactions using a credit card number or phone number.

“The central server has all the chain’s transactions for the past 180 days,” says Christian, noting that the retailer has a 90-day return policy. The centralization of data has improved the retailer’s fraud control. “If a person bought a coat, then returned it with a receipt, that particular coat would be marked as ‘returned,’” explains Christian. “If the person then tried to return the same coat in another store, they wouldn’t be able to, because the system would know that that receipt now indicated the return had taken place.”

While Christian did not attach any specific benefit numbers to Wilsons’ adoption of the JDA POS solution, he did note that the chain’s sales and overall financial performance have been good since the system went live last spring.

Christian is active in JDA’s user group, and he hopes to influence the development of additional functionalities in future versions of its solutions.
“I’d like to get the ability to track coupons, so that if someone redeems a coupon we would know which transaction it was and where the coupon came from,” says Christian. “We send out coupons through the mail and also distribute them through the bus drivers who bring people to the outlet malls where we operate, so if I could track the coupon’s origin, we’d know how many customers came from the bus and how many came from the fliers. We can’t easily do that today.”

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