By Brian Birch, Netrush Chief Operating Officer
Within this year alone, the cost of online return deliveries is predicted to reach $550 billion USD. That’s an enormous amount of product making its way back through supply chains. Some of those returns may end up being a total loss, but in other cases, products can be salvaged and re-injected. That critical decision is made at the supply chain level and is why brands should prioritize product inspection procedures that meet or exceed their own expectations.
How Supply Chain Fits into the Reinjection Process
When a product is returned, it’s not always completely pulled out of inventory and sent back to the manufacturer. A solid quality assurance process can create value through the supply chain by allowing product that is up to certain standards to be reinjected into Amazon, and therefore sold again — without going all the way back home first.
The most critical decision point in a return process is determining whether or not to put an item back into inventory. With consumable products, for example, the decision is easy — the lack of assurance and transparency about what happened to the product once it’s injected into the Amazon system means it has to be discarded.
There’s much more opportunity for reinjection when it comes to hard goods, as they can be more easily considered for possible reinjection. This means a return may not be a total loss for a brand. During the inspection process, floor associates need to focus on the critical elements of a product inspection that’s unique to each product. Investing in the proper processing platform that allows for customizing returns and inspection to optimize this process is a great help to supply chain teams. A product is to never be reinjected into any sales channel if it doesn’t meet platform standards.
Supply chain teams must be well trained on what constitutes an acceptable product for reinjection. For example, a lightly used dog harness may, unfortunately, not be able to be reinjected. Even the slightest amount of use can result in dog hair sticking to the product, deeming it unsellable as new according to inspection standards. In these situations, a returned dog harness is either discarded or donated.
Balancing Return Rates and Product Quality
Apparel and footwear are particularly challenging. These categories are known for high return rates and demanding customers that reject products that aren’t in pristine condition. Online shoppers tend to mimic the fitting room experience of trying on multiple items and sizes and choosing only one — which is why return rates are so high in this category. With so many returns, brands have to rely on reinjection to keep from hemorrhaging profits while maintaining a reputation for pristine quality.
In a brick and mortar setting, the quality control that goes into repackaging the shoes, shirts, or jeans that get tried on before going back to the shelves differs from e-commerce. Once a customer opens an Amazon package, almost anything can happen. That’s why a solid quality assurance process within the supply chain is necessary for reinjected products.
A quality assurance process should include:
- Visual Aids: Showing what soles, logos, and stitching should look like on a new product helps to determine if the product is in good enough condition to be put back into inventory.
- Direct Examples: Having examples on hand that floor associates can directly compare to ensures that it’s the right item and that it’s in the brand’s desired condition. This assists in determining whether the product is to be discarded, donated, or reinjected into inventory.
- A Final Checkpoint: A customer return could have been the result of receiving a product that was not properly inspected prior to primary shipment or reinjection. A final stop and checkpoint before any products are to be reinjected or repurposed is crucial.
When supply chains operate by a clearly defined standard, the e-commerce returns process can exceed quality control used in any channel. Not every return can be saved. Brands must be ready to kick out any product from their system that doesn’t meet strict quality assurance criteria. This ensures that an optimum customer experience is still being provided.
Online returns are costly for brands, but putting proper quality assurance and re-injection processes in place can help to recoup some of those losses. Here are elements of a re-injection plan that can help brands save:
- Before product re-injection can happen in the supply chain, supply chain associates need to be well-trained on quality assurance standards set by the brand.
- Ways to help improve the quality assurance process can include visual aids, direct examples, and a final checkpoint.
Learn more about the Netrush supply chain team and strategy on our Supply Chain page.