In 2018, the retail industry saw its most successful holiday season in recent memory, with sales totaling over $850 billion. But with such an increase in purchases made, and many given as gifts, retailers experienced increased returns alongside these sales. While e-commerce often takes center stage during the holiday season, brick and mortar stores still offer a valued, tactile experience for shoppers and offer retailers the opportunity to connect with customers and build relationships.
But how can reverse logistics processes find a middle ground for returns that are both convenient for the customer and optimal for a retailer’s bottom line? As the 2019 holiday season now approaches, retailers must adapt to the evolving technology landscape that supports the seamless integration of online and brick and mortar retail experiences. With the right technology, retailers can institute multi-channel return options for customers to optimize the reverse logistics process and in turn, reduce wasted inventory and maintain a quality customer experience.
Why reverse logistics needs a multi-channel approach
Today, many consumers shop both online and in-stores based on their day-to-day preferences and needs. Some retailers have begun to offer the same flexibility with their return policies, allowing customers to determine what works best for them – returning in-store or by mail. In-store returns of online purchases secure face-to-face interactions where retail employees can take advantage of new sales opportunities. Ultimately, offering the option to return goods in-store or online creates a competitive advantage for retailers.
For example, Nordstrom and its subsidiaries offer customers this type of multi-channel reverse logistics flexibility. With this, they make the returns process easy for customers to support their individual preferences and make the return experience a good one. Furthermore, this tactic creates the opportunity to bring consumers into the store when it’s convenient for them, offering retailers the opportunity to personally interact with customers, to potentially sell more product or offer an exchange rather than return. Integrating the e-commerce and brick and mortar shopping experience with flexible reverse logistics processes is an effective way to optimize returns around the busy holiday season.
The impact of technology on reverse logistics
In order to optimize the reverse supply chain, retailers must arm themselves with the right technology. All returns, regardless of the way they’re returned, must be documented and tracked in a unified system, with data visible to workers every step of the way, to protect the customer and the inventory itself. Yet many retailers still rely on legacy warehouse and tracking systems that have become outdated, and don’t offer real-time transparency. This is often the biggest problem for retailers when dealing with returns and is becoming a key area of investment. With the right technology, retailers can track and document returns, whether returned in-person or via mail, and easily transmit this information throughout the reverse supply chain.
To optimize returns, retailers need to trade in legacy systems for new technologies such as in-store barcode scanners, updated warehouse management systems and real-time apps for tracking and documentation. Handheld devices with barcode scanners streamline inventory processing by providing workers with fast, efficient means of collecting info. Then, they can move onto the next phase of the return, without missing a beat. Updated warehouse management systems offer a modern, organized view of inventory, which enables retailers to organize the products coming in and going out. Similarly, real-time inventory tracking apps can offer both customers and retailers real-time visibility and a means by which they can track purchases, consumer feedback and even reasons for a return.
During the holiday season, retailers must be wary of the power of returns to overwhelm a business. Without proper, multi-channel reverse logistics processes in place this time of year, retailers can easily become overwhelmed, sacrificing inventory and customer loyalty. But with the right technology and strategic processes in place, retailers can successfully navigate the holiday season by offering customers the personalized experiences they’ve come to expect from modern retailers, for both purchases and returns.
-Jay Voorheis, national sales manager – Retail, Manufacturing, Field Services, Panasonic