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Mastering returns

13 April 2020

Clipper Logistics is a 3PL dedicated to retail and has developed an innovative approach to returns. Its CEO Tony Mannix outlines the challenge, its solution and plans for the future.

Returns are a natural and unavoidable consequence of trading online. It is important for businesses of all sizes to adjust their propositions to suit online trading at every level – it’s this that will provide a point of competitive advantage for each business. Easy returns have long been used as an area of competitive advantage. An efficient returns process can promote customer loyalty, while maximising resale value and minimising revenue losses.


The primary challenge is the lack of visibility when it comes to dealing with returns. Returned goods tie up a huge amount of stock and working capital, and can become a retailers biggest single inbound source of supply, presenting significant operational challenges. In order to avoid customer friction, retailers often allow customers to return items with the use of an enclosed returns note, which typically means that you don’t have transparency on what a return is, or what processing it requires until the returned parcel is opened.

To allow efficient and timely returns, requires a mix of proven process and the provision of real-time stock data. Our process is designed to support the retailer by utilising original sales data to match the returned goods to the consumer’s account. It takes a disruptive inbound system and, through careful management and quality checking, reroutes it into the supply chain as goods ready for sale. Our Boomerang service streamlines returns and offers added-value services from pre-retail, steaming and pressing, to quality checking, re-labelling, repairs and warranty assistance.

Shared user 

At Clipper, we are also heavily invested in creating shared user operations, which localise critical mass of fulfilment activities in order to apply best practices to even the smallest of customers. This enables every Clipper customer to get the same experience and have access to the same services, regardless of size. In order to achieve this, we are migrating to a flexible cloud-based system which will provide a scalable platform that is able to react quickly to the challenges of growing customers.


Increased use of mechanisation and automation offers us the opportunity to process Grade A returns back into stock at a much faster rate. At Clipper, we currently have a number of trials in place where we are using this technology, and we have more customers who are encouraged by the use of automation, which offers greater productivity in less space, as the need for walkways and aisles are eliminated. Walking distances are reduced, there is an increase in space utilisation, and productivity levels are on the rise.

With labour shortages within the logistics industry widely documented, investing wisely in automation is key to our agenda, as it changes the nature of the jobs people are required to do, which we then support through additional training and development of our people. We believe this benefits not only them, but also us as a business, and so, we invest in training at every level.


The future for logistics is data-driven. We are committed to investing in new products and service offerings that are value-enhancing to our existing and future customer base. To further our knowledge and research into data and automated business processes, we have started a research project in partnership with The Institute of Data Analytics at The University of Leeds to delve deeper into the insights of the habits and demographics of its customers – and their consumers.

The challenge is incorporating big data into an analytical platform and utilising it to improve business processes.

There are currently limitations on the volume of data that can be analysed and as we learn more about the evolving retail landscape, data sets are becoming larger and more diverse. The challenge is incorporating them into an analytical platform – this project is aimed at developing new knowledge and expanding the capability in gathering, processing and analysing Big Data and utilising it to improve business processes.

Retailers should not believe they have to build everything themselves – working with great partners who enhance your offer and allow you to focus on your core retail proposition is important. Maintain a strong understanding of your current customers and future potential customer base, particularly around their evolving needs in relation to service proposition requirements.