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Supply chain leaders have faced significant challenges in the past, and in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic spotlighted the need for supply chain resilience and integration. Among these, an integrated return management strategy can make or break successful operations. Failure to consider how the disruption affects all parts of the supply chain will lead to delays and added costs. Fortunately, supply chain leaders can take several key actions to address these issues and improve their returns management operations.

Use Real-Time Data to Inform Your Returns Management Strategy

The ability to collect data is meaningless without the ability to analyze the data to inform data-driven business decisions. However, not all supply chains have the capacity or resources to aggregate the massive stores of data available. Of course, more data amounts to increased visibility and, therefore, actionability to prevent disruptions from contributing to higher freight spend.

As also reported by Accenture, “To help leaders use insights to respond with confidence, companies should use a logistics control tower to get a real-time view of operations. This will require integrating logistics market information (e.g., truck border crossing times), inventory levels, demand forecasts, and capacity constraints, both internally (e.g., warehouses) and externally (e.g., carriers and suppliers) to support better and faster decision making.

At this point, companies are going for scale rather than scope. It is better to focus on a core set of end-to-end global priorities than get distracted by trying to implement sophisticated functionality in each locality.”
Having this level of access to real-time data can also dramatically improve supply chain performance by keeping all parties informed. Instead of hoping a shipment arrives in time, shippers and carriers, as well as logistics service providers, can work together to plan accordingly.

Understanding the True Costs of a Return Management Strategy

Compared to the need for real-time data access, supply chain leaders need to know their current freight spend and driving forces. Disruptions constitute a significant factor. But the driving forces of higher spend may include increased consumer demands, pressure for faster turnaround time on repairs, and more transparent processes. Remember that customers expect businesses to maintain social and environmental responsibility.

As a result, returns management needs to consider what happens to products after the interaction with the customer ends. Gathering real-time data goes a long way in building the necessary processes to ensure this transparency. As companies look to increase accountability and service levels in the reverse supply chain, integrating systems and a comprehensive returns management strategy with customer-facing systems and reports will grow in value. Furthermore, deploying technology to share data seamlessly will help maintain control and transparency in reverse logistics costs. The deployment of technology, particularly those using automation to capture rates and tender freight intuitively and balance spot freight sway, must always trace back to seamless data sharing and increasing visibility.

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