Many companies today offer their customers the service of returning goods that do not fit or do not like them free of charge. This has led to a very carefree ordering behavior. Many consumers already calculate their right of return when purchasing and order an item of clothing in two colors. In the meantime there are even so-called fun buyers who order products without any intention to buy. As a result, every sixth order in Germany now goes back.
The high return rates put many retailers under economic pressure. Many of the processes are still manual and therefore time-consuming and labor-intensive – at the expense of the margin. In addition to postage costs, there is also the personnel and logistical effort for viewing, processing and re-storing the returned items. In order to avoid the expensive handling, some companies even destroy faultless returns. Packaging waste and transport-related CO2 emissions also have a significant impact on the environment.
Why automate returns processing?
The only solution to the problem for online retailers can be effective returns management. As a result, you not only save money, but are also more sustainable on the road at the same time. Automated returns processing is a promising success factor. On the one hand, self-working systems minimize the processing cycles from incoming goods to the product that is ready for resale. On the other hand, they quickly and automatically prepare the returned goods for the next order. This reduces the error rate to almost zero – in contrast to manual order picking, where even optical signals such as put-to-light do not completely rule out possible incompleteness. As a result, companies reduce incorrect deliveries and can thus effectively reduce their returns.
At the same time, automation systems in returns processing ensure that buyers’ trust grows, for example by automatically triggering a credit or refund immediately after the goods have arrived. Statistics show that up to 80 percent of the returned goods are very likely to be re-ordered within 72 hours. Anyone who sorts and buffers with the help of automatic systems during return storage and preparation for reshipment, their goods are ready for sale more quickly. This significantly reduces process costs and avoids multiple orders.
The future of online trading is automation
Even in areas that, like the fashion industry, cannot be regulated entirely without human workers in the near future, (partial) automation can at least relieve the burden. Because the manual effort is particularly high there. Employees have to open the returns by hand, assess the condition of the products, classify their resaleability and register all textiles again without errors in the merchandise management system.
It is also necessary to fold the goods properly or hang them on hangers before they go out to another customer. Automated solutions can accelerate and partially take over all of these processing steps, such as re-wrapping or storing or temporarily storing the goods. For this, the system can consist of several workstations that are connected to one another via conveyor technology. With the help of IT applications, the material flow can be reliably managed and revised. In this way, traders can effectively counteract both daily and seasonal fluctuations at the same time.
Bag sorting system: A solution for effective returns processing
The intralogistics specialist Dematic offers an effective solution for returns processing with the bag sorting system. This conveying option is suitable for lying as well as hanging goods, provided the goods fit into the bag or can be hung outside the bag using a clothes hanger. The Dematic bag sorter accepts one item per bag up to a size of 500x400x160 millimeters and a weight of three kilograms.
The system can also be used without pockets. For example, it is possible to hang up clothes hangers directly – an advantage especially for delicate and quickly wrinkled hanging items. Lubricants in the transport system are fundamentally problematic in the vicinity of textiles. Dematic therefore does not use them. The goods are transported via a plastic-based chain system that neither needs to be oiled nor tensioned.
System security is guaranteed by a low-maintenance friction roller drive. The placing of the goods in the pockets can also be automated if necessary. After the return assessment, the goods are packed in cardboard boxes or automatically wrapped, labeled and placed in the pockets, as required. If an article is ordered again, it is transported to the picking area, where it slides into the shipping box via the patented pocket opening. The throughput can be varied thanks to the modular structure.
Also read: Returns management – use strategic advantages in 3 steps.
“In view of the growing demands of omni-channel shipping, automation systems are essential today.”
Winnie Ahrens, Senior Sales Manager and E-Commerce Expert at Dematic. (Image: Dematic)