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How often do you really think about the reverse supply chain? It’s easy to assume the reverse supply is solely based on returns. While this is partially true, all reverse logistics involve a backward flow of products that return to their origin, it’s not that simple. Returns may derive from buyer’s remorse, damage to items, defects, end-of-life disposal, and even recycling. Unfortunately, most supply chain leaders continue to incorrectly assume reverse logistics is an archaic process that’s best ignored and left to individual brick-and-mortar facilities for management. Instead of being regaled to this desolate outlook, executives need to rethink their strategy and consider how a data-driven reverse supply chain could add more value and improve profit margins. 

The Ultimate Guide to Transportation Reverse Logistics

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The Grand Misconception About Data in the Reverse Supply Chain

There is a major misconception about how much data can be successfully collected within the reverse supply chain. The surprising truth is that the moment a return is initiated, the reverse supply chain should also consider the full scope of data regarding that item or its specific SKU designation that may have contributed to the need to return, repair, replace, or otherwise recycle an item. This is where the value of data-driven reverse supply chain analytics and management comes into play. 

Data-Driven Reverse Supply Chain Processes Promote Key Benefits

Data-driven reverse logistics allow for informed decision making to consider the unique issues affecting each return. Since this may include recalled and defective products, it is imperative for supply chain leaders to thoroughly review each return to determine if the return was justified and what the best resolution is going to be. This is a sentiment that even the biggest names in the industry have discussed at length. According to Deloitte:

 “Returns are becoming one of the greatest supply chain challenges companies face today. A reverse logistics supply chain management strategy is critical to maintaining healthy inventory turn and operating expenses. Understanding the dynamics behind how, when, and why customers return items is critical to understanding purchasing behavior and improving overall experience. Every product return is a chance to learn more about the customer, drive the next sale, and make it stick. Online returns are often the result of digital challenges, such as poorly displayed images and incorrect fit. Variances in manufacturer sizing contribute to over 50% of customers returning items due to product size or fit.” 

As a result, utilizing data to better understand reverse logistics and applying advanced analytics allows supply chain leaders to realize these key benefits:

  • Reduced rate of returns. 
  • Faster time to resolution for returned items. 
  • Increased speed in managing repairs. 
  • Increased compliance with applicable disposal or reclamation regulations. 
  • Greater recapture of revenue by assessing the true value of items returned. 

Of course, that’s only half the battle in reaping the rewards of data-driven reverse supply chain processes. 

Best Practices to Using Data to Guide Reverse Logistics

To reap the rewards of analytics- and data-driven reverse supply chain, logistics leaders should follow these steps:

  1. Keep everyone working together and sharing the right information with connected communications via API-integrated systems
  2. Reduce confusion over bookings, pickups, and deliveries by sharing key documents within an overarching platform. 
  3. Use analytics to identify trends contributing to higher-than-anticipated returns, repairs, or recycling levels.
  4. Streamline reverse logistics management by integrating it with your existing forward logistics management platform, including the transportation management system (TMS). 
  5. Recognize that not all returns can be pinned back down to a single issue, so it’s best to use data to recognize trends in the market to help with total logistics costs. 
  6. Continuously measure performance with returns key performance indicators.

Keeping those steps in mind, supply chain leaders could reallocate network resources to leverage empty miles to move returned items without incurring an added cost for drivers and additional runtime for the truck. As a result, the company can better stay within applicable HOS regulations and mitigate rising reverse logistics costs at the same time. The same steps taken earlier on, such as sharing information and data, can be further used to inform manufacturers of potential defects, allowing for intervention, and effectively mitigating the risk of future returns for similar issues. 

Listen to “The Role of Supply Chain Technology for More Effective Inventory & Warehouse Management” on Spreaker.

Bring Your Reverse Supply Chain Into the 21st Century With Data-Driven Processes Now

There will always be a reason for returns, and implementing a no-returns, no-repairs, no-replacements policy will inevitably backfire. Therefore, companies need to start thinking about how a data-driven reverse supply chain strategy can isolate the issues, mitigate future returns, and promote better customer experiences.