By Debbie Gregory.
The Defense Department’s Executive Resale Board has unanimously voted to recommend that military exchange services open online discount shopping to 19 million honorably discharged veterans.
The plan, which could begin at the end of next year, would extend shopping discounts to most American veterans.
Not only would the plan reward those who have served by giving them a 20 percent savings over commercial department stores, but it would also increase exchange revenues to offset recent declines.
Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work is expected to give final approval to the Veterans Online Shopping Benefit within the next 2-3 months.
The military relies on the revenue from the exchanges to fund its Morale, Welfare and Recreational activities. Because of budget restrictions, some services have had to use exchange dividends for more basic needs rather than “frills.”
Army and Air Force Exchange Service CEO Thomas C. Shull has led the effort to expand online shopping. By adding veterans to the online patron base, exchange services expect total annual online sales to jump from $250 million to $1 billion in less than four years.
The commissary shopping benefit isn’t involved, so there won’t be any dilution to that benefit, or any increase in crowding or product availability. Military retirees, 100-percent disabled veterans and Medal of Honor recipients would still be the only veterans allowed to shop in base exchanges.
Exchanges are eyeing a “soft launch” of the expanded online benefit to segments of veterans by mid-2017, to gauge demand and test system capabilities including the process to verify veteran status. A full launch with much fanfare and promotion is expected by Veterans Day in November 2017.