Predator or Prey?
Best practices to get the most out of your Reverse Logistics program and avoid falling prey to current trends.
By Jim Schumacher
Times change, industries change (think Blockbuster Video), consumers at the end of supply chains are demanding more. Driving much of this change is the effect e-commerce is having on the retail supply chain. If factors like these are making you feel cornered when it comes to managing the cost and complexity of reverse logistics, then you are not alone. Unfortunately, the axiom “survival of the fittest” also applies to reverse logistics. As a person responsible for managing this for your company you are faced with choices like “adapt or perish”, “fight or flight” or becoming “predator or prey”.
No different than with other aspects of your business such as marketing and or operations, adaptation or evolution should also be present in your approach to reverse logistics. With the fast pace of technology and impact of e-commerce almost everywhere today, companies must adapt if not embrace the changing forces present in reverse logistics to remain relevant and competitive. Choosing to look the other way or ignoring these forces can become a costly mistake. Where prior to the impact of e-commerce on reverse logistics you could be dealing with a 1%-2% cost of goods sold, the multiplier effect we see today from e-commerce can easily double or triple this cost.
Fortunately, DRS is here to help you continue as king of the jungle in your industry. We have put together an assortment of best practices and actual business cases for you to reference.
Recommended best practices from the experts:
Here are some of our favorite best practices to illustrate the impact that a sound reverse logistics program can have in helping you make more profitable decisions in running your reverse supply chain:
When was the last time you updated your returns policy? Retailers have certainly been active updating their returns policies to reflect such changes as e-commerce and haz-mat. Policy best practices include:
- Ensure policy is current and updated regularly
- Accepted by your trading partners
- Audited for accuracy
- Comprehensive to cover all your product types and most likely scenarios
- Are you in control of your product’s disposition? The ultimate disposition of your product should be your decision. 20 years ago, manufacturers were concerned with keeping their items out of 2 dozen flea markets. Today, because of the proliferation of 3rd party resellers on sites like Amazon and eBay your product could be for resale out of thousands of garages and basements at any given time. Best practices related to product disposition include:
- Predetermine your items disposition beforehand by explicit direction in your policy, a prearranged return authorization or some other means
- Avoid ambiguous dispositions like “destroy in field” or “donate”
- Are you recovering as much residual value as possible? This is directly related to the best practice of controlling the disposition of your product. If there is residual value to be recovered most likely somebody is recovering that value. Why not ensure through the control of your returned items that somebody is you and your company who benefits from any value recovery through liquidation, repurposing or recycling? Best practices related to value recovery include:
- Commit to a multifaceted disposition process that can positively impact your company’s bottom line
- Don’t go at it alone – work with a trusted 3PL who can customize a program to meet all your needs and provide the expertise and experience you may be lacking
- Understand that reverse logistics is a constant need to address and that you and your customers will both benefit from a disciplined, well-structured approach
- Are you paying retailers claims with no questions asked? A longstanding paradox of reverse logistics has been that returns can be extremely transactional and these transactions can be highly inaccurate. Best practices related to claims processing include:
- Validate quantities returned to quantities claimed
- Audit claims to ensure correct item pricing and fees are included
- Pay only on items returned and not just claimed
- Get repaid for wrong items and fees claimed
- Are you analyzing what is coming back, from where, and why? Analytics is your tool for adapting to survive in reverse logistics. What gets measured improves. If you are not learning from and adapting to this information you most likely don’t know your true cost of returns. Often this blind spot can be a competitive disadvantage to your peer companies who have this information and understanding. Best practices related to analyzing returns data include:
- Limit the return of in-date, undamaged product that you are paying for
- Identify and prevent the return of diverted product
- Understand the root causes for the return (promotional, packaging, other) and preventing reoccurrence
- Implement a continuous improvement mindset and philosophy and reinforce with cross functional teams
- Collaborate both inside and outside of your organization with the information and knowledge gleaned from your program to reduce the incidence of returns
- Use your improved understanding of the true costs related to your returns and the potential benefits directly tied to program improvements to secure senior management support for additional reverse logistics related projects
See our best practices in action:
Interested in learning more from specific examples?
If you are interested in looking to improve your returns management process, financial reconciliation, remarketing results, dealing with a recall or looking to assess your supply chain for areas of opportunities, take your pick from the links below. DRS has been there assisting companies like yours for 25+ years and can customize a solution to meet your exact needs to help you save money and remove costs from your reverse supply chain.
Adaptation can keep your company’s supply chain from falling prey to these fast-moving developments in reverse logistics. Now is not the time to be reducing and or even eliminating your focus on reverse logistics. This is the best time to do just the opposite. It’s not time to run, it’s time to attack this head on. Don’t be prey, be the predator in this instance. Trust me, you will like what your bottom line evolves into.
Is your brand equity a true concern of 3rd party resellers?
By Jim Schumacher
How secure is your brand’s equity when it comes to your items finding their way onto the 3rd party reseller’s market via returns or product discontinuation? As we close the books on Q1 2018 and peak returns season, you may be thinking that The Amazon Effect has done its worst to your bottom line and now there is some time to shift your focus away from the process of returns. Do not be fooled! In today’s e-commerce environment, protecting your brand’s equity is a year-long process and you must constantly adapt to the shift it has developed around all aspects of buying, receiving and returning of your products.
With the continued growth of e-commerce companies like Amazon and Walmart have taken steps to better enforce product quality but is this really their biggest concern once your product is in the hands of the 3rd party resellers? It is these resellers and not companies like Amazon who are doing the transacting with your products and they are finding ways to circumvent quality at the expense of remaining relevant in what is becoming a very cutthroat side of the business. So even though you may feel some sense of relief that these companies have taken steps like enforcing gating on a variety of its more sensitive products, there are many factors that take precedence in the reseller market you may not be aware of.
Just like any other market there is a grapple between competitors fighting to be number one with your brand taking on the repercussions, risking your brand recognition and quality.
Amazon has created more restrictions for their sellers but are you, the manufacturer a priority?
The Amazon marketplace is by far the leader and innovator in the space of e-commerce but extensive issues with fraudulent sellers and counterfeit products from China has forced them to tighten the reigns so to speak just in the last year. Efforts to ensure that an assortment of items have been regulated (gated) have helped galvanize quality but this is still a developing process.
Amazon makes it very clear that their priority is the customer and the gating they have created comes from the result of its customer base responding to the receiving of expired, false or obsolete products. The sellers take a second seat to Amazon’s focus. Sellers truly consider themselves as being “all alone” when it comes to selling through Amazon. This has led to competition figuring out ways to meddle with the opposition’s products by defamation of quality and service in several different ways.
This battle between sellers being waged on Amazon has your product caught right in the middle.
Being a reverse logistics company, several concerns come to mind. Most prominent is the security of retailer’s reverse logistics operations to ensure goods are handled properly in relation to exiting the primary supply chain because of damages, discontinuation or expiration. For example, what happens to your item when packaging fails to survive the rigors of the supply chain? Amazon does offer packaging options but states that this does not include excess actual packaging materials, such as hard plastic clamshell casings, plastic bindings, and wire ties which may be a necessity depending on the item.
With reseller’s operations ranging in size and capability it’s hard to say how items are being handled from the perspective of packaging triage, let alone temperature control or other aspects of your item’s quality that may or may not be adhered to.
Like the way that Google defines how articles are found in their searches, sellers on Amazon are having to learn (on their own) how to get their products and services listed on the first page of listings related to their products. This often leaves the sellers doing whatever it takes to be first including relying on price to improve their search results regardless of quality. Monitoring the feedback of some online consumers is not unheard of for product that was once packaged in a carton or bottle to be delivered in a plastic baggie.
More desperate sellers often report their competition for not having an authentic product which leads to the suspension of certain items until the quality can be investigated. As a manufacturer if your products are finding their way into this 3rd party market, their reputation is at the mercy of a system that is still far from being perfected. Which sellers are legitimate and which are illegitimate? At the moment it’s hard to define and the good name of your product could be caught in the middle.
Amazon is improving its gating but what about their competitors?
Where it is encouraging to see that Amazon is working to ensure that its sellers are providing a better-quality product with gating what can be said about competitors like Walmart, eBay and Newegg? It’s not likely that sellers who have found resistance from Amazon are giving up. Just because they have been removed from Amazon does not mean there is lack of opportunity elsewhere. With companies like eBay, Walmart, and Newegg looking to stay competitive with Amazon, not much now is known about their specific efforts around gating currently. What is known is that they are more than happy to coax a reseller away from Amazon and into their platform. Knowing that there are additional avenues for this risk to your brands to perpetuate online only adds to the importance of securing your items and not leaving your brand’s good name to chance.
What can be done?
Make certain that your reverse supply chain is secure so there is less opportunity for your items to find their way into the growing universe of independent 3rd party resellers using platforms like Amazon, eBay and others for the unauthorized reselling of your product. E-commerce is changing the rules of reverse logistics. If you are not keeping up with these changes you are putting the equity of your brands at risk. A full service, reverse logistics solutions provider like DRS Product Returns can help you to assess any risk in your reverse supply chain and create a cost effective solution to address this increasing burden on manufacturer’s bottom lines. Your brands are worth it so contact DRS today to learn what can be done to address this situation.