The return of the goods: Why distributors need to get to grips with reverse logistics


There’s no two ways about it; being able to effectively manage returns, or reverse logistics, is a process worth its weight in gold come this time of the year. Having witnessed another busy Black Friday, and with Christmas/Boxing Day sales set to hardly be a walk in the park, the ability to successfully deal with the volume of products returned by consumers is increasingly becoming a concern worthy of attention.

With a lot of consumers now doing most of their shopping online, the inability to hold and feel a purchase before ordering is resulting in higher levels of returns. This change in buying habits increases pressure on ensuring the supply chain works efficiently, with problems arising that require quick support. One such issue that regularly appears is that of consumers returning products that aren’t able to be re-used, with damaged boxes a typical feature that prevents selling on. Issues may also crop up in the warehouse itself, where often the lack of real time tracking of returning merchandise and poor process integration into the warehouse can affect the process of returns drastically.

The end result of such inefficiencies is ultimately a financial as well as a timely one. As well as impacting upon the amount of true sales there is also an operational cost, largely incurred by the transporting of the products to the consumer though occasionally picked up via the handling of the extra stock. The personnel cost is another factor that will have a negative impact financially, as employees are paid to process the claim, organise the return from the customer, and inspect the product, before organising for a replacement.

What we need to do as distributors working alongside our partners is to provide a service that at least alleviates some of the stress relating to the returns process. Visibility and effective tracking methods are key, with accurate inbound shipment information, such as parts, condition, quantity and dates, crucial if we are to ensure returns are made as simple as possible. Capturing information early on is also key, as this then allows for returns to be passed through the system with greater accuracy and speed. We can also provide an additional quality assurance, offering timely feedback on outbound shipment and ensuring that our partners are updated accordingly to be able to act when returns reach their highest volumes around key periods.

The rise of online has undoubtedly made returns an increasingly important process to get right, as the higher volumes put more and more pressure on those involved. This is one such area where the opportunity to visit in-store proves its worth, with Walmart making headlines last month by promising 30-second returns via its Mobile Express Returns service. We still have a key role to play in aiding our partners in this process however, and should use all of our data capturing and expertise to make the forthcoming period as pain free as possible.


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