4 Tips to Master Reverse Logistics

Up to 40% of online purchases made in the past year were returned, finds recent research. Whether you’re diving into e-commerce for the first time or finding your footing after the accelerated industry growth amid the pandemic, mastering reverse logistics is an essential function of your operation, now more than ever.

Think of reverse logistics as a mirror to the general logistics process—everything is backwards. Instead of picking items off the shelf, packaging them up, and shipping them off, products return to the warehouse by customer request and need to be inspected carefully to determine whether they are resalable.

With the basics down pat, check out these tips to improve reverse logistics.

1. Perfect the policy. Every good process starts with a straightforward policy that guides the workforce to be consistent. The simpler the process, the easier it is to follow. Companies like LL Bean and Zappos have some of the most popular and simplistic policies around—customers can return an item with the receipt in hand in exchange for a new item to replace the old; this builds brand loyalty.

At a basic level, your reverse logistics policy should start with where returns are delivered to the warehouse. Is it at your main docking station or a different entrance? Think about what specific days or times of day work best to take in returns.

Once on the docks, designate a specific area of the warehouse to bring items to for processing. Task a group of employees with just the returns so that they don’t try to do multiple warehouse jobs at once.

A simple and straightforward process makes it easy for warehouse employees to follow the policy consistently with minimized mistakes.

2. Packaging with returns in mind. One popular aspect of Amazon packages is that customers are able to reuse the packaging to make a return. With resealable envelopes and sturdy boxes that can be retaped, Amazon has a well-thought-out packaging system that makes returns easy for customers and warehouse employees, and promotes sustainability.

When shipping products, package them with the expectation that they could be shipped back. Think about packaging that keeps items safe from damage during transport and include "how to return" instructions for customers that include return labels and carrier choice.

3. Designate space for returned items. Have at least one space in the warehouse that is made specifically to handle returned items. Keep in mind that returned packages aren’t likely to be the same size, shape, and weight and may not be easily or efficiently stacked well. If possible, have a separate loading dock to take in returns close to the workstation and hire employees that work only on returns.

4. Invest in solutions and software. Provide employees with tools to do their jobs accurately and efficiently. Warehouse management systems are great for productivity tracking and item documentation and can be easily customized to fit your operation’s needs.

Mobile powered industrial carts are an affordable way to mobilize the mission-critical tools—printers, scanners, laptops—you already have in the warehouse. With everything at their fingertips, employees gain an average of 5-10 hours per week in productivity by cutting down on wasted steps.

Investing in tools is investing in your workforce. Consider what options are within your budget and can help maximize warehouse productivity and accuracy.

It takes time to figure out what process works best for your operation, but continue to make small tweaks and go through trial and error. Eventually you will have a world-class reverse logistics department that contributes to the success of the overall fulfillment process.

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