Handling reverse logistics for e-commerce fulfillment

Posted by Kristen Melendez on Thu, Jul 25, 2013 @ 09:00 AM

reverse logistics

It’s best for any retailer if orders go out to customers and don’t come back. However unfortunate, though, many items find their way back to the warehouse or store floor after they’ve been shipped away. Whether it’s because of ill fit or because there’s a wire loose somewhere, customers return items for any number of reasons, and sometimes it’s not because the item is faulty. In any case, many retailers don’t take into consideration the sheer amount of time it takes to handle returns while still maintaining efficient shipping of online orders. There are some companies that specialize in handling returns, but there are others that do both fulfillment and the reverse logistics of returns. Here are some things to keep in mind as you’re handling reverse logistics.

  • Returns pile up quickly. Items may just be returned because a customer changed his or her mind, but each piece still has to be inspected. Some return policies, for example, won’t accept a pair of shoes if they’ve clearly been worn even once. The inspection process takes time and has to be accounted for.
  • Sorting returns can be a job in itself. A person could handle it as his or her full-time job and stay consistently busy. Depending on the size of the retailer, more than one person is probably needed. It’s unrealistic to have someone who usually picks or sorts orders try to handle returns during down time.
  • If there’s a greater issue with a product, like a manufacturing flaw or a large batch of orders that are missing pieces, the manufacturer has to be made aware of it. Hopefully, you can remove any other flawed pieces from the stock, but if others have gone out, plan on handling even more returns. Of course, this problem can be avoided if items are checked for quality as they come in from the manufacturer before being stocked.
  • The return policy can make things really difficult, even though it’s necessary. Some items are returned well within the allotted timeframe, but others cut it close. That means cross-referencing shipment dates with return dates. If they don’t match up, the customer has to be made aware of that.
  • If the item is back within the allotted timeframe and passes inspection, then the item has to be put back into stock, which means it has to be repackaged for storage.
  • At the same time, the customer will have indicated whether he or she wants a replacement or just a refund (if available). If the former, then a new order for that item has to be picked, packaged, and shipped. If a refund, an item has to be dispositioned and has to be conveyed quickly and clearly to whomever does the refunding.

 There are a lot of logistics that go into handling returns. If it sounds like a bit much, look for a company that can help you out. If you already have an e-commerce fulfillment partner, check to see if they also handle reverse logistics. If they don’t, consider a company that does, for simplicity’s sake. 

Topics: Distribution, E-commerce