As eCommerce becomes increasingly convenient, efficient and immediate, returning goods bought online is still the pain point felt by the entire industry - expensive for retailers and cumbersome for shoppers. Shoppers are not only left with an unwanted product, but have to put in real-world effort in order to receive a refund.  

But Doddle's new Runner service aims to improve this experience for customers, removing the need to queue up at the Post Office during a lunch break ever again.

And unlike the Amazons and Ocados of the retail world which are investing in the latest robot technology to improve fulfilment, Doddle is offering specially trained human runners who will come and collect parcels from customers within an hour, for a fee of £5 plus postage. Doddle said the service will wrap, post and track the parcel using the best price next day delivery service.

Technology does of course come into play, with the Doddle Runner app providing price estimates of postage and the ability to request a runner, who are currently only available in East London with plans to roll out to the rest of the capital in the coming months.

Customers using the Doddle Runner app will be asked to take a photo of what they want delivered and enter a delivery address or simply the name of the retailer they want to return it to.

When the company launched the service last week, Doddle CEO, Tim Robinson, said: “We've all had those moments when we realise we need to get a parcel to someone for the next day, but we’re short on time to send it, or we're running out of time to return something bought online that we don't want."

The final mile of logistics

IMRG's head of e-logistics, Andrew Starkey, said as the range of options for fulfilment continues to increase, shoppers have come to expect a "high degree of convenience from their final mile experience".

While this service is paid for by the consumer who wishes to make the return process easier, retailers should take note of this new fulfilment option as customers may expect e-tailers to offer something similar if Doddle Runner takes off.

Steve Mader, vice president Retail Insights at Kantar Retail, noted that technology giants including Uber, eBay’s Shutl, or Amazon’s Prime Now are constantly striving to reduce friction from the fulfilment phase of the path to purchase.

"It's refreshing to finally see innovation happening on the returns process which can be a massive point of stress for shoppers," he said.

"Fulfilment (and now returns) as a service is the way forward and we're already starting to see this happen in the US with services such as Postmates opening their API to allow third party applications to use their on-demand courier network. London is an easy choice for the launch of Doddle Runner as the program should easily scale given the high population density and catchment area of Doddle locations, though the economics may prove difficult outside of highly urban areas."

Michael Marienfeld, managing director of The Logistics Business, said the human element of Doddle Runner combined with its exclusivity and simplicity may be its winning formula.

"Consumers are demanding more and more from their retailers in terms of delivery and returns options, the Doddle proposition hands back control to the consumers – in some way a personalised carrier."

"The 'human' element is quite interesting and perhaps is an antidote to the impersonal, robotic, drone focussed offers that provide efficiency but not necessarily empathy," he added. "There's something slightly retro in the idea – the introduction of good old fashioned runners and even the word ‘doddle’ is a word that transcends ages."

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