How to optimise your warehouse for returns following COVID-19

Optimising For Returns Bannner

Returns have always been one of the more challenging areas of ecommerce retail operations, and COVID-19 has thrown this into sharp focus.

Quarantine and shielding have made it more difficult for customers to return items via post offices or mail drop-off points. Because of this, ecommerce retailers have needed to adapt.

Data from May 2020 gathered by Navar and Forrester show that 40% of retailers have made their returns arrangements more lenient with things like longer time windows or lower charges, while a further 27% of retailers are considering similar changes.

Pre-crisis trends showed that returning goods is becoming increasingly common. One major shipment organisation predicted the costs of returns to rise 57% from 2017 to 2020, with the largest returns sector of clothing making up 75% of all ecommerce returns.

With returned items needing to be placed back into product circulation increasingly rapidly, better warehouse operation processes are needed. If you want your warehouse to be optimised for returns, consider the following techniques.


The 24-hour window

To keep up with the competitors in your field, you should be bench-marking your returns processes against the best-in-class. In that regard, 24 hours is the gold standard. That is how long it should take between receiving a return at goods in, to having it back in storage ready to be re-purchased. Keep this goal in mind to give you context for your current performance, and as a target for future progress.


Prioritise and strategise

The returns section of your warehouse should not be an afterthought that is just squeezed in wherever space can be found. Returns should be a priority area, carefully positioned so as to avoid congestion and other unnecessary slowdowns. When thinking through your strategy, take care to consider daily, weekly, and monthly return trends.


Keep it clean

Your returns operation will generate an inordinate volume of waste. Much of the packaging that customers send back will not be reusable. Disposal or recycling will often be the order of the day, both for keeping your company’s credentials green and your operations efficient. Clearing debris out the way shouldn’t be the job of pickers who are also busy reorganising products, since this will only slow your processes down. Instead, your warehouse should have a designated and dedicated team whose job it is to keep the returns space tidy.


Experienced employees recommended

It is easy to see how dealing with returns is an entirely different role from picking products for outbound shipping. The sorting, selection, and organising processes are more complex and involved. As a result, it makes sense to put your very best people on this job to make the most of their skills. Most often, this will be operatives with the most experience. They will know the systems best and have a good knowledge of your warehouse operation.


Invest in the right technology

The process of returns doesn’t have to be as complex as some companies make it. Consider making the system as digital as you can by investing in intuitive WMS facilities with returns capacities. It is becoming increasingly common practice to send customers a printable barcode or QR code to put in their returns packages. You can integrate Mobile WMS Devices into the returns process, as well as outgoing sales operations, to increase your throughput and accuracy.

As the COVID-19 crisis runs its course, it is clear that returns will become increasingly challenging for ecommerce. With proper care and good management, your warehouse can not only face this challenge; it can make the very most of it.

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