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Battling returns management challenges with voice and robotics

25 January 2021

Product returns have become one of the biggest challenges facing eCommerce.

You are often dealing with single product units which could run into the thousands, and the options for how to treat returned goods are complex.

This means finding the right leverage between automation and business processes, and why organisations are turning to voice and autonomous mobile robot (AMR) technologies within their wider warehouse management strategies and integrating with their warehouse management systems (WMS).

In effect, your WMS – the strategic brain of your warehouse operations – should “write” your returns policy against a set of process parameters designed in consultation with a technology partner such as Körber. It should also flag decision points – such as whether the item is still within its qualified return timeframe, for example – and it should change your policies in line with market trends.

Craig Moore, Körber’s Vice President of Sales, states “Companies are looking for ways and mechanisms to make the right decisions within their returns process.” This is where innovative technology is introduced to transform your returns workflow.

Voice Technology - Voice delivers 20% efficiency gains almost immediately on implementation. In a put-away or replenishment scenario, you can return products to their locations quickly and efficiently so they can begin their sales lifecycle again. This efficiency is gained through hands-free and eyes-up movement. This is executed through state-of-the-art Voice technology which feeds instructions to the operator via a headset.

AMRs - AMRs are autonomous mobile robots that can perform many movement activities in a warehouse without rails or tracks. Instead, they use sensors, cameras, and software to build a digital map of their environment, with embedded safety mechanisms. They speed up the returns process by handling the movement between inbound goods and put-away – decreasing the traveling time of team members returning goods.

Returns management is an inescapable and growing fact of eCommerce, and remains a complex challenge for many organisations. An effective returns process boosts profitability, but lack of one can be a revenue leak for the company. The most successful operations will be those embracing returns with effective systems such as voice, AMR and a robust WMS.