Purchase is just a special case of Exchange

When you forget something that you learned before, perhaps it’s time to write it down.  So here goes.

It turns out that what most people think of as e-Commerce, and in fact, any kind of commerce, is just the very tip of the iceberg.  What is below the surface, behind shopping carts and packing and shipping is a huge ugly monster – the exchange process.

An exchange is a process where a customer purchases some items, returns some of them and receives replacements for some of the returned items.  So, you see, both Return and Purchase are special cases of this flow. 

The first time I came to realize this, we were building a very nice e-store.  Unfortunately, no-one had thought about returns or exchanges at all.  Indeed, it was unclear whose responsibility they were!  So, the store kept getting more and more elaborate, and no one thought much about returns until we came to writing the terms and conditions (how this happened is a story for another day).  Needless to say, that was much much much too late to make a really snazzy experience for the customer or indeed for the poor service agent.

What we should have done is started thinking about exchanges up front.  How would inventory move from the warehouse to the customer and back again?  How would the money work, and what about the taxes? 

Now, I’m working on another offering, and realized after a two-hour session on the purchase, provisioning and billing of a service, we hadn’t thought yet about the exchange side.  Fortunately, it happened before we got too far down the road, but it would have been so much more efficient to have come up with it up front.

If you concentrate on the exchange process up front, you may be able to build hooks into the purchase process or even the product design to make the exchange easier (or indeed possible).  The simplest example is a shipping label that goes into the box to enable the customer to return items — this can be barcoded to identify the items and original shipment.

So next time, don’t have a meeting to discuss the purchase process, but to discuss the exchange process.  You can touch on the purchase if you want, but it’s the exchange where the real issues show up.

Blogged with Flock


2 Responses to “Purchase is just a special case of Exchange”

  1. Matt Says:

    I hear you. I will never forget that.

  2. Melina Says:

    very interesting. i’m adding in RSS Reader

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