With e-commerce growing, returns of products have become a fact of life and are a major headache for retailers. According to a study, 30% of online shoppers deliberately over-purchase and subsequently return unwanted items. The fashion sector is a good example: Many customers order multiple versions of the same item, keep the color or size that fits, and return the rest.

That has of course great impact on retailers: 57% of them say that dealing with return shipments has a negative impact on the day-to-day running of their businesses. Could this challenge serve as an opportunity for logistics services providers? In other words, how can return shipment operations be planned efficiently?

From the customer’s point of view, ordering an item online is easy. But returning that same item is a different story. Usually, customers are need to bring the product back to a physical shop, or drop it off at a carrier’s service point. Wouldn’t it be more customer-friendly if carriers would offer a pick-up-service?

Business potential and challenges

There is a business potential for logistics service providers. Chances are high, that while delivering a package to a customer, the driver comes close to another customer who wants to return an item.

By combining pick-ups and drop-offs, logistics service providers can generate more value per trip and increase returns. This is the kind of efficiency that everyone in the transport sector is looking for – and is also a major challenge for planners.

Picking up a return shipment is usually possible only if the customer is on site. For this to happen appointments or time slots have to be set, what makes planning even more complex.

An additional problem is that drivers ideally start their journey with a full vehicle.  Thus, one or more shipments have to be delivered first, so to provide enough space on the loading bay to pick up the returns.

Making appointments online

A transport planning system provides planners with much-needed support. Such a tool distributes all orders – both pick-ups and drop-offs – automatically and optimally to vehicles and drivers. Smart algorithms automatically consider all relevant restrictions, from time slots and time periods to the capacity of the loading space.

Carriers who want to go a step further can add route planning algorithms via API to their web shop or order an entry system. Like this, customers can easily make an appointment for the pick-up of the return shipment online, while the system automatically considers the loading of the vehicle, as well as the already scheduled trips.

Appointments can then only be made, for example, if the vehicle is actually close to the pickup location. If the pick-up is impossible due to driving and rest times, the option disappears from the booking system.

Registration of returns

The only thing that customers have to do so is to register their returns, and this can be done online. Registration allows the customer to print out the correct return label and stick it on the box, making the return process as smooth as possible.

A pre-notification also provides the carrier with the necessary information to efficiently schedule a pickup. This includes the delivery address, of course, but also the size of the shipment and – as indicated – possibly the time at which the shipment can be picked up. If this information can then easily be imported into the route planning system. One click is enough to create a reliable and fully automated planning proposal.

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