Reverse logistics efficiency is key to keep returns costs under control and building positive customer experiences. In today’s world, an easy customer returns process does not always amount to fast, efficient management. New technologies, including blockchain, continue to change the game, and more companies are looking for ways to find a more transparent product returns process. Blockchain aside, consider how the application of data and technology can improve returns efficiency in these keyways.
Keeping customers informed begins long before the purchase occurs. When companies collect and analyze data, they are better able to ensure products added to the cart are what the customer actually wanted. Meanwhile, advancements in the data can be further used to help guide customers to the most likely product they want based on past online activity. Furthermore, this data is key to powering integration between systems, which reduces risk of error during order fulfillment.
The returns management authorization process is the stage where companies can connect the issue of returns efficiency with encouraging a purchase in exchange. In other words, the company gets to retain the customer and the profits derived from the transaction. Furthermore, automation in this phase can help companies identify defective products and pull items from available inventory to reduce risk of contributed returns from future customers.
While returns might sound simple, the proved floor repackaging and restocking may be exceedingly complex. Augmented reality may help staff know how to handle each request without referencing and endless or other paper documentation. Augmented reality is also much more than futuristic applications of virtual reality too.
For example, voice-activated systems and wearable scanners effectively augment a person’s ability to manage returns and shorten the restocking and put-away process, increasing returns efficiency. In other cases, these capabilities can help staff determine if an item can be repaired before resale or sending the item to a liquidator.
Integrated returns processes within the transportation management system (TMS) form the basis for preventing unexpectedly higher freight spend. Obviously, companies cannot simply forbid all returns, but the risk of higher spend without any visibility into the reverse flow of goods will inevitably cause higher spend. In other words, having access to information concerning returns efficiency and volume is key to keeping total freight spend under control.
At the same time, informed returns management provides a comprehensive view of the health of the supply chain and whether companies need to start rethinking their returns policies. According to Medium.com:
“As a retailer — online or brick and mortar — there is simply no way to reduce the fast and furious wave of returns. Consumers have grown accustomed to buying and trying — and often returning — merchandise. Allowing them to do so, the experts say, promotes customer satisfaction and happiness — the holy grails of consumer merchandising.
So, if you can’t turn the tide on skyrocketing consumer returns, you have to make the best of it. But no one says sellers have to take it in the shins, either. There is another way. By outsourcing returns management to a company with innovative technologies for the supply chain, a retailer can be certain they are maximizing recovery on every returned item.”
Another factor in returns management that requires technology lies in diversifying the logistics management strategy to secure more carriers and available cargo space. By increasing possible volume, carriers are more inclined to stay competitive and offer discounted rates on reverse logistics. And, those benefits are two-sided, yielding possibly cost reductions in forward logistics as well. Diversification of reverse logistics within the supply chain further includes the potential for outsourcing whole returns management processes to third-party logistics providers(3PLs). Ultimately, the exact solution will not be identical for all companies. As a result, it is important for supply chain leaders to really know what is necessary within their supply chains, relying on the latest data and insights available.
The need for real- time data is much more prevalent than companies realize. While companies know that connected systems are key, the real solutions lie in systems capable of sharing real-time data. EDI and API connectivity in reverse logistics ensure everyone is on the same page. As collaboration increases, companies may opt for further insights through connected data analytics to better understand and reduce return rates.
In the age of technology, it can be difficult to find a way to separate existing supply chain strategic initiatives from the needs of tomorrow. Among these needs, reverse logistics processes that are conducive to an increasing rate of returns are tantamount to making or breaking the supply chain. Fortunately, more companies are quickly learning to take advantage of 3PL services and unifying their supply chains through next- generation TMS capabilities.
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