The Financial Times reports that Walmart has announced that it “will streamline its returns process so that customers can be in and out of a store in about 30 seconds, compared to an average of five minutes earlier this year.”

The move is a response to a simple reality - the growth of online shopping has meant a growth in the number of returns; while people may shop Walmart online, they choose to return products to a bricks-and-mortar store. “Between 15 and 30 per cent of purchases made over the internet end up being returned, analysts estimate, compared to less than 10 per cent of in-store purchases,” the story says.

FT writes that Walmart says that it will “give customers refunds on certain household goods, including shampoo and make-up, without asking them to physically return the product at all, meaning Walmart will swallow the cost.”

TechCrunch explains even further: “People who purchase items online and then need to return them can do so by logging them on the Walmart app, generating a QR code for the transaction, and then walking into a physical Walmart store to return or exchange the items quickly. In certain cases such as orders with bulky items, customers can simply keep them and still get a refund, a program it referred to as ‘keep it’ in an interview last week.

“Mobile Express Returns is due to launch in November of this year and get rolled out to all of Walmart’s 4,700 stores in the U.S. The service will also expand in 2018 to cover third-party sellers on Walmart.com’s online marketplace.”

At present, the story says, there are no plans to allow people who buy online from Walmart-owned Jet to return those items to a Walmart store.

KC's View: I think the thing that surprises me the most about this is the exclusion of Jet from the returns model - this doesn’t make sense, and doesn’t take advantage of store proximity that should be to Jet’s, well, advantage.

The returns issue is an important one, and does play to Walmart enormous fleet of stores … and it also points to why Amazon is likely to use Whole Foods’ fleet of stores as a tool to facilitate returns. Sometimes, it seems to me, it may not be the last mile to the customer that matters most to shoppers, but rather the first mile back to the retailer. It is important to have a presence on both stretches of road.