FedEx upgrades its package returns system

Just three weeks after rival United Parcel Service of America Inc. launched its new package returns service, FedEx Corp. today announced improvements to its three-year-old FedEx Express NetReturns system.

According to Memphis-based FedEx, the Internet-based system will improve customer service for businesses, including online retailers, and make returning unwanted products more convenient for customers.

The upgraded service, which is similar to the new service offered by Atlanta-based UPS (see story), will let customers print out shipping labels, which includes the appropriate routing information, from their PCs and allow Internet retailers to manage returns from the retailers' Web sites.

The company said customers can drop off packages at any of its 44,000 FedEx Express locations as well as track their packages online. Until now, FedEx couriers had to pick up parcels, making it inconvenient for many customers.

"Returns satisfaction is important to retain customers, and our new online label-printing features make this a very simple and convenient step for both businesses and consumers," FedEx vice president of electronic commerce marketing, David Roussain, said in a statement. "Because each label contains all the information necessary to initiate a return quickly and easily, businesses can process their returns more efficiently and consumers can benefit by receiving their credits even faster."

FedEx spokesman Jim McCluskey said the enhancements to the system will debut next month, just in time for the holiday season.

Currently, more than 150 companies are using FedEx's NetReturns system, compared with one company that's using the system from UPS. UPS said it's accepting a limited number of customers from now until the end of the year and will roll out its new service on a widespread basis early next year.

Previously, Donald Broughton, an analyst at A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc. in St. Louis, said the impact of UPS' new returns system would be measured by how quickly and whether FedEx announced upgrades to its NetReturns system.

McCluskey, however, said the enhancements to FedEx's returns service had been in the works prior to the UPS announcement.

UPS spokesman Steve Holmes said he couldn't comment on whether FedEx's announcement came in response to UPS' new package returns system.

"We'll have to take them at their word," he said. "Although I would be surprised if their system [offers the same level of services] ours does."

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