How Australian Retailers are Tackling Supply Chain Challenges of Online Returns

April 11, 2023

Strategies to Streamline the Returns Process

In recent years, the growth of online shopping has transformed the retail landscape in Australia. As e-commerce continues to expand, the issue of online returns has emerged as a significant challenge for retailers. According to a report by Australia Post, online purchases grew by 57% in 2020, with return rates ranging from 10% to 40% depending on the retail category. The increasing volume of returns is placing pressure on supply chains and presenting logistical hurdles. This blog article explores how Australian retailers are meeting these challenges with innovative solutions to provide a seamless customer experience while optimising their supply chains.

Centralised Return Hubs

Leading Australian retailers such as Myer and David Jones have implemented centralised return hubs to streamline the returns process. These hubs serve as a single location for receiving and processing all online returns, enabling retailers to manage returns more efficiently. By consolidating returned items, retailers can quickly process refunds and restock items, reducing the burden on their supply chains. The trade-off is often reponsiveness and requiring sufficient volumes to justify a centralised investment in asset, infrastructure and capabilities.

Improved Return Policies

Some retailers are revisiting their return policies to better accommodate online shoppers. For example, The Iconic, an Australian online fashion retailer, offers a generous 30-day return policy, giving customers ample time to try on and return items they don't want to keep. This approach fosters customer loyalty and encourages repeat purchases while also reducing the volume of returns that need to be processed at once.

Harnessing the Power of Microsoft Power Apps for Returns Processing

Some retailers are turning to custom software solutions to support accurate and consistent returns. Microsoft Power Apps is a low-code platform that allows businesses to create custom applications tailored to their specific needs. By leveraging Power Apps, retailers can develop returns processing tools that streamline the process and reduce manual errors.

For example, a retailer could create a Power Apps-based returns management system that allows employees to scan returned items using a barcode scanner, instantly updating inventory levels and triggering any necessary refunds or exchanges. The app could also automatically generate shipping labels for items that need to be sent back to distribution centres, further streamlining the process.

Integrating the Power Apps tool with the retailer's existing CRM and inventory management systems ensures seamless data flow and allows for real-time tracking of returns data. By automating and optimising the returns process, retailers can reduce operational costs, improve customer satisfaction, and better manage their supply chains.

In-Store Returns and Partner Store Returns

Bricks-and-mortar stores are adapting to the growing trend of online shopping by offering in-store returns for online purchases. Retailers such as JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman allow customers to return online purchases at their physical stores, providing a convenient option for those who prefer not to ship items back. This strategy also helps retailers manage returns more efficiently by reducing shipping costs and the overall impact on their supply chains.

Investing in Reverse Logistics and Identifying Partnerships

To better handle the influx of online returns, many Australian retailers are investing in reverse logistics systems. Reverse logistics involves managing returned items and moving them through the supply chain for resale, recycling, or disposal. Companies like Toll and Australia Post are offering tailored reverse logistics solutions for retailers, allowing them to optimise their supply chains and minimise the cost and environmental impact of returns.

Benefits of Streamlined Returns Management

Implementing the strategies outlined above can lead to numerous benefits for retailers in terms of service, inventory health, working capital improvement, and cost reduction:

  • Enhanced customer service: Providing a seamless and efficient returns process can lead to increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Improved inventory health: Effective returns management helps retailers maintain accurate inventory levels and ensures that returned items are quickly restocked or repurposed, reducing the risk of stock obsolescence.
  • Working capital improvement: Streamlining the returns process allows retailers to recover funds from returned items more quickly and optimise cash flow.
  • Cost reduction: Efficient returns management can reduce operational costs, such as shipping and handling, as well as minimise losses due to damaged or unsellable returned items.

As online shopping continues to dominate the retail landscape in Australia, retailers are finding innovative ways to address the challenges of returns. By streamlining processes, embracing technology, and investing in reverse logistics, Australian retailers are not only optimising their supply chains but also enhancing the customer experience. Harnessing the power of Microsoft Power Apps to develop custom returns processing tools is just one example of how retailers are adapting and evolving to meet the changing needs of their customers. The future of retail depends on their ability to adapt and evolve, and these strategies demonstrate their commitment to meeting the changing needs of their customers while reaping the benefits of improved service, inventory health, working capital, and cost reduction.

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