Product Selection – Many Happy (No) Returns

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The Safety & Security sector is highly diverse, covering product classes ranging from domestic padlocks and window locks to privacy locksets and electronic entry systems.

Depending on the class of product, post-purchase returns or exchanges to manufacturers across the industry can represent 1%–4% of all sales, and figures are higher again purely within the confines of retail-consumer environments. In many cases, returns are traceable to customer confusion about the product: its size, material specifications, installation requirements, compatibility with existing hardware, or basic functionality.

Every time a product is returned to the point of purchase, there are obvious costs throughout the supply chain: the returned product may not be resalable, or it might only be resalable in fully refreshed form; significant retail and manufacturing company staff resources are required to handle secondary transactions, potentially involving a repetition of the full sales and consultation processes; and other customers might suffer from inattention while all this activity is taking place.

Perhaps most importantly, negative purchasing experiences can inspire a customer to associate a good product with a poor image, negating hard-won brand recognition and harming future business or upselling opportunities.

Another crucial (but often overlooked) aspect of product returns or exchanges is that they signify a dismal failure on the ‘level of difficulty’ sale scale. Simplicity is the hallmark of the world’s greatest products and sales processes, leading to the Holy Grail of retail success: as many sales from ‘upgrades to better products’ as opposed to ‘replacements of broken products’. Every time a consumer returns an inappropriate, wrongly sized or hard-to-install item, the odds are high that person will never again make a similar purchase until absolutely forced to do so (i.e. to replace a broken product). Not a good starting point for discretionary or impulse sales, or upselling.

In-store guidance

The good news for retailers is that many of Australia’s most forward-thinking manufacturers and suppliers are working hard to help consumers make the right in-store decisions, leading to better-informed purchases and fewer time-wasting returns.

For instance, Gainsborough Hardware, a business unit of GWA Door & Access Systems, has developed a combination of packaging initiatives and instructional merchandising aids to help identify and explain the applications of different types of products.

“At Gainsborough, we are constantly looking at improving consumers’ buying experiences, and we have led the door hardware category with innovative packaging solutions for over 10 years,” says GWA’s Product Manager Residential, Mira Varathan.

“From our recent market research, we have identified that there is more room for improvement in the retail sector where education plays an important role in product selection. In line with these findings, we are working on various initiatives and, most importantly, developing a clever packaging solution that helps the consumer in making the right choice in store. Our ‘easy to choose, easy to use’packaging approach comes with installation templates and downloads that are readily available in the pack and also on our website.”

Varathan says Gainsborough is also extending its online training tools to customers and store staff as part of an ongoing product training and development program.

Similarly, Mayo Hardware, another leader in security devices, including the comprehensive Master Lock range of padlocks and accessories, has enjoyed great success with its Master Lock Security Solutions Centre (MLSSC). This display system, says Mayo’s Assistant Product Manager, Tresan Tesoriero, acts as a “silent salesperson” in busy stores and uses clear category headers and descriptions at POS to help customers in the selection process.

“The MLSSC features informative category headers, a video screen to educate customers on products, a glorifier panel to showcase products while pointing out features and benefits, and QR Codes on all packaging referring customers back to the Master Lock Australia website,” Tesoriero says. “All these work together to greatly assist the customer in choosing the perfect security solution for their application.”

Commonsense categories include ‘Weather Tough’, ‘Luggage’ and ‘High Security’, all of which – in combination with many other well tagged subsections – help take the guesswork out of product selection. Supporting visual cues, such as uniquely designed packaging for each class of product, reinforce the function of the display as a roadmap to correct functionality.

“Also, we have recently implemented new packaging which rates products based on weather resistance; this is done in the form of icons on the front of packaging,” Tesoriero adds.

Not to be outdone, Lane Security (part of ITW Proline), has come up with some very well thought out techniques to tighten consumers’ in-store product selection processes, expertly matching product classes to defined applications that a layperson can understand.

Justin Wythe, Business Manager Lane ANZ, says a multifaceted approach involving training, packaging, online services and clear displays all contribute to superior results.

“We offer a one-day Lane Training Academy security training course for retailers in our four training centres across Australia,” Wythe says. “We also offer a mobile training unit in all states. The course covers the Lane range in detail and is also designed to allow participants to spend a large amount of time gaining ‘hands on’ product experience.” Retail staff can even practice installing most of the items they will encounter in a retail environment.

Packaging, Wythe adds, is aimed at assisting self-selection with colour coding according to function, along with information about features and benefits that also help to define distinctions between products.

“And QR Codes on packs direct consumers to our website, where there are details on all products, and our catalogues are available to download,” he explains. “Packs with two QR Codes direct consumers directly to our installation instruction and drill template download site – also accessible directly from our website.”

YouTube videos and display boards and blocks complete the array of aids. Lane Security in-store displays are worth special mention. Similar to the abovementioned MLSSC presentation, the Lane displays also feature a logical ‘heading/subheading’ product classification system, based around broad headings of Knobset, Leverset and Security. These kinds of clear cut guides, Wythe says, have helped reduce returns dramatically by general industry standards, and the company continues to improve in-store methodologies to educate consumers about different categories.

“Lane prides itself on consistent product quality and overall customer satisfaction – we offer a minimum seven-year warranty across our range,” Wythe says.

New technologies

It is no coincidence that all the above companies have nominated thorough retail staff training as a cornerstone of effective customer selection procedures; however, new technologies – particularly QR Codes – are cited with equal enthusiasm.

For instance, Varathan says Gainsborough is developing various in-store devices such as interactive video screens, YouTube clips, QR Codes and Apps that are compatible with smart devices, featuring product information that can be downloaded at the customer’s convenience.

Mayo Hardware, as noted, has also embraced QR Codes to allow customers to learn about products and appropriate applications. Another interesting Mayo initiative is the online “Master Lock Vault – Your Safe, Secure, Convenient Digital Safe Deposit Box”, which allows owners of devices with combinations or passwords to record settings in a secure location (visit www.masterlockvault.com).

Lane Security is also a passionate adopter of QR Code functions. “It’s hard to beat well trained store staff,” Wythe says, “but a mix of packaging that allows easy self-selection and links to online information using QR Codes or websites is vital.”

Holistic approach

Overall, it is pleasing to see that leading suppliers and manufacturers are addressing the issue of returns and exchanges with realistic, logical and holistic solutions that actually work. Astutely classified product displays are fundamental to educating customers and driving more refined purchasing decisions, and Internet-based portals are filling in the knowledge gaps. Sound retail staff training programs complete the process nicely.

For more information on ITW Proline, go to: www.itwproline.com.au

GWA Doors & Access Systems www.gwagroup.com.au

Mayo Hardware www.mayohardware.com.au

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