Edition 93
Impacting returns: Provide Sufficient Information Pre-sales
by Ken Jacobsen, , Connexus & RLA Standards Committee

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It has been estimated that roughly 13%, or $90 billion of this year’s holiday sales, would pass through the reverse supply chain by the end of February. Gift buying is always difficult to get right: is it the right size? Is it compatible with the giftee’s environment? Ecommerce doesn’t help either as a higher percentage of products purchased are sight unseen… purchased merely by the description on the web page. While it is true that more complete information is provided about products on the Internet, the kick-the-tires element is missing. Brick and Mortar stores will always be a critical channel for consumer marketing.

The best part of retail shopping is the browsing factor. The customer walks in for one item and leaves with four or five. These spontaneous purchases are also a significant component of heavy returns. Buyers remorse accounts for some of this, but limited product information is also a contributor. Product packaging is designed to help the sales process by making the product attractive. The fine print is literally small print. Smaller products have minimal space for information.

Home automation products are proliferating. They come under the generalized category of IoT devices— the Internet of Things. Why? Because they are often connected and controlled wirelessly through the Internet. Smart home device sales are projected to rise 36% over 2017’s sales, reaching $4.5 billion overall, per a Statista report. Now that Google has released a version of Android that is designed to be built into appliances, entire homes will soon be automated. And the entire environment will be controlled by either your smart phone or a smart hub such as Amazon’s Echo Dot.™

With competing ecosystems, interoperability and compatibility become critical issues. Large systems such as HVAC and home entertainment systems will require professional installation. Smaller gadgets will be installed by consumers. In both cases most systems will be hybrids of mixed brands and perhaps even multiple environments; combining Apple, Amazon and Google products as an example. This is potentially a nightmare for the service industry. This trend will also exacerbate the problem of excessive returns. The ease of ecommerce will only heighten the complexity of the typical environment.

In each and every one of these scenarios, better information will improve the purchasing decision and the installation/servicing process. This will result in fewer returns and fewer service calls. How do we propose to do this? We already noted that there is limited real estate available to include more information on the packaging. This is the proverbial ten pounds in a five pound box scenario.

The RLA Standards Committee has developed a labeling protocol that does just that! Smart QR Labels (SQRL) can put up to 4000 characters of information into a very small QR code with multiple fields that can be scanned with any smart phone. One of the fields could simply identify what platforms a given product will work with. A more sophisticated application might even give a simple Yes/No response when the consumer asks their smart phone if the product is compatible with their home environment. Another set of fields can access installation videos, or manuals. The consumer scans with their smart phone: scanning the label can connect directly to a chat or phone call with a sales support representative. With so much capacity supporting multiple fields, the amount of information is practically limitless. With this much information so easily accessible, better purchasing decisions will be made. The rate of returns will be reduced. Consumer Promotional Scores will go up.

The RLA Standards Committee is now working with a few companies (and seeking more) to launch pilot projects implementing these protocols. They have been adopted as an ANSI Standard (MH10.8.2.12N) and are incorporated into the on-boarding IoT standards by the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF). As manufacturers incorporate these standards into their product label applications, a compatibility test will become common place. Decades ago, the first product with a bar-code was scanned at a grocery store—it was a package of chewing gum. It has to start somewhere. The bar code took less than five years to proliferate. Smart QR Labels will likewise proliferate and they do so much more. In addition to pre-sales support, other applications include documentation and support; product registration and warranty management; recalls and end of life product management… the list is endless.

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