Fix the Supply Chain to Improve Product Returns Management

Supply chain is the whole apparatus in place to move goods from the manufacturer to the consumer or customer. Not too many years back, supply chain had little to do with returns of goods. This was primarily because the returns were predominantly on the basis of poor product quality or if there were damages. These damages were manufacturing defects and sometimes the shipping or logistics companies could have been held accountable for damages in transit. More often than frequent though, the retailers had little to do with returns since they had almost no role to play in the supply chain, other than serving as the frontend.

Today, eCommerce has changed the essential supply chain. The buck does not stop at the retailer since there is another leg of logistics or shipping involved. We are not even talking about last mile delivery in this specific case. Most retailers with a presence on eCommerce sites do not have local stores. They have fulfillment centers. It is not uncommon for companies to have only one major fulfillment center. Whatever is the setup in place, the phenomenal increase in returns can be largely attributed to problems in the supply chain. After all, logistical issues and any poor customer service post a sale would be a part of the supply chain as it stands today.

Companies should always be diligent about their product quality, especially manufacturers. Even retailers cannot afford to sell poor quality or unreliable products as that would have a ripple effect on their brand value. Beyond the product quality, the packaging and other quintessential elements, companies should look at how a supply chain is erring in fulfillment. The fulfillment section of the whole supply chain is not confined to warehousing, order processing and dispatch or shipping. It includes procuring the items before warehousing and stretches up to the last mile delivery. Any number of things can go wrong in this substantially complicated and multidepartment process.

Systematic errors are rare in order processing and even the overall fulfillment. It is the plethora of minor hiccups and lack of resolute coordination that create the most common problems. Customers are often kept in the dark about the whereabouts of their purchased goods. There is often a prolonged delay in offering a factual reasoning or an understandable explanation. Often, customers do not get any response by the time it is too late for the goods to arrive and hence they are returned. Product returns management can be seriously improved by plugging problems in the supply chain.