With the chaos of the holiday peak season behind us, it’s time to gear up for, arguably, the most stressful time of the year: the month of post-holiday returns. Come January -- clothing, shoes, toys, electronics, and all other random gifts will be loaded back onto carrier trucks and dumped back into our warehouses. Likely, with no rhyme or reason to it.
So, how do retailers handle the influx -- especially when 2021 is predicted to see $70.5 billion of holiday returns (a 73% increase over the current 5-year average)?
We have a few ideas.
Expand Your View of Your Inventory
The reality is: many products will be returned to locations they weren’t shipped from. This can make restocking and managing your inventory a mess.
However, you can combat this by connecting the inventory held in each individual warehouse and store into a single network. That way, when returns are logged back into your inventory, be it from a POS system or by a barcode scanner in a fulfillment center, they can be added back to an organization-wide total that can be viewed at any location.
This approach also allows you to minimize product waste by pinpointing locations that are taking the bulk of the returns and showing which sites have the capacity to take the strain of future product returns.
Hang On to Seasonal Employees
When customers return items, they often have questions about the process or find themselves in need of step-by-step guidance.
Having the right amount of customer support personnel on-hand enables you to support those customers by answering their questions, explaining your return policy, and walking them through confusing parts of the return process. It also increases the likelihood that returns will be completed properly.
One way to make sure you have the support you need is by keeping your seasonal customer support agents on for a few extra weeks to handle the influx of phone calls, emails, live chat messages, and texts. Since they’re already trained, you won’t have to worry about getting them up to speed. And they’ll know what the holidays looked like for your business, which means they’ll be better equipped to answer nuanced and complex questions.
Automate What You Can
While product inspection must be done by employees, there are aspects of the return process that can be automated.
Artificially intelligent software can review the product return request, generate instructions for the return, facilitate a refund, and create free shipping labels to help the customer get the product where it needs to go. Tracking tools can monitor the product while it’s en route to its return location -- be it a brick-and-mortar store or a fulfillment center. And once the product has reached the warehouse floor, robotics technology (specifically autonomous mobile robots) can simplify the sorting and processing of the returned product.
Regardless of what tools you already have available to you, tapping into automation can help you process returns quicker and more accurately. As a result, your reverse fulfillment process can handle a larger amount of returns more easily.
Partner with an Omnichannel Fulfillment Provider
Even with the best processes in place, it’s difficult to keep up with post-holiday product returns. However, by partnering with a third-party fulfillment team, you can more effectively scale your operations to meet the demand.
In fact, with Radial, you can hand off all of your reverse logistics needs completely -- including additional warehouse space, product restocking, product exchanges, and shipping. This means you can focus on planning the new year and providing your shoppers with a top-notch customer experience, rather than sorting through products that were the wrong size or color.
January is shaping up to be a chaotic few weeks for reverse logistics. Luckily, by creating a shared view of your inventory, automating what you can, holding on to those seasonal employees a little longer, and partnering with a 3PL company, you can manage it all like a pro.