Kardex outlines how to make the most of ‘Reverse Logistics’
23 May 2019
Reverse logistics is one of the most often overlooked elements of the complete operations cycle but it shouldn’t be. Unmanaged, uncontrolled returns processes can put tremendous strain on a facility’s available space and labor. Further, and perhaps most compelling, are the costs associated with returned inventory.
Reverse logistics isn’t just a cost of doing business. It’s a significant cost that can have an enormous impact on the bottom line. According to research by Aberdeen Group, “the top challenge facing manufacturers and retailers in regard to returns management is cost containment.” In fact, as online retailers expand their customer-friendly policies with easier options for returns—including free shipping and no restocking fees—return costs have jumped to as much as 8% of online retailer costs.
Here are some statistics that explain the why of Reverse logistics:
- Liquidation of returned inventory that cannot be re-sold typically generates anywhere from 12% to 25% of the item’s original cost.
- 52% of distribution centre managers lack the ability or resources to process returns; 44% consider returns handling to be a pain point within their operations.
- An estimated 10% of overall supply chain costs result from managing return/repair processes. Inefficient processes can exacerbate this cost, cutting profit by 30%.
- 64% of retailers have identified returns management as an area needing improvement.
- Companies that implement an improved reverse logistics operation to enhance the speed and efficiency of returns save roughly £230,000 in costs annually.
- Companies with best-practice reverse logistics operations are 47% more likely to process returns daily.
- Implementing a managed reverse logistics process can increase a company’s revenue by up to 5% of total sales.
The deployment of affordable, flexible automated storage and retrieval systems can simplify reverse logistics processing. Through the implementation of such a system, returns can be handled as another form of inbound shipping through efficient routing and restocking items to minimise inventory costs, labour requirements and space demands.
Once returned items have been inspected and labeled with a disposition destination, things can fall apart for many returns operations. Inundated with a potentially overwhelming number of discrete items, managing their sortation and routing can be a real challenge for fulfillment centres. Boxes and totes of returned items can quickly overwhelm both the space allotted for their temporary storage, and the labor assigned to their management. Especially for facilities with hundreds of thousands of square feet of conventional inventory storage racking, sending an operator to physically return one item to its stock location can be a time-consuming and ergonomically fatiguing task.
To move returned items through the disposition process quickly, an automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) can speed up processing times to maximise asset value recovery in a compressed footprint while reducing cycle times and labor-associated handling costs.
While there are a variety of AS/RS technologies offered in the market—including capital-intensive, multi-million-dollar robotic installations—the most affordable and flexible solutions are Vertical Buffer modules, vertical lift systems, vertical carousels and horizontal carousels. These self-contained systems offer higher density storage in a more compact footprint than manual storage equipment can provide.
The selection of the most appropriate AS/RS for a given reverse logistics operation is dependent on a variety of factors, including number of inbound returns received per day, the size variability of the returned items, and the desired rate of throughput for returns. When paired with fixed mounted or radio-frequency (RF) scanners for barcode reading, light-directed picking workstations and/or put walls, items routed to the automated returns processing area post-inspection can be quickly identified and operators guided to the appropriate receptacle presented by the AS/RS. Because the automated systems deliver the destined receptacle directly to the worker and highlight its position, both walk and search time are eliminated, enabling a need for fewer personnel to sort and route more returns.
In certain applications, the storage bins in the AS/RS can even be utilised as forward pick areas. This functionality is enabled by integrated inventory management software that not only keeps track of the contents held within the machine, but also interfaces with a facility’s warehouse management system (WMS) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. This function allows picks to be sourced from the most convenient location (in this case, the returns processing area) for even faster restocking and resale of returned inventory.
Likewise, when the AS/RS’ software recognises that a pre-determined quantity of returned inventory has been reached, it can work with the WMS to assign and interleave a task for those items.