Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash


The look of defeat when dealing with returns

There is a look that brands get when dealing with returns management that I associate with the following paraphrased children’s song:


The bear went over the mountain
To see what he could see
The other side of the mountain
Was all that he could see

The returns is the mountain. The bear is the brand. There is nothing on the other side but more returns. The look is one of defeat. Mountain climbing is usually victorious, but not this mountain. This mountain is slippery, steep, overflowing. It doesn’t have a set path, unless you count the steady and ongoing flow of returning items. The defeat of this mountain is spiced with frustration, cynicism and apathy.


Love to hate the returns mountain

Ironically, the returns are a sign of the success of the brand to sell, sell, sell. The brands love to hate the mountain, but the path to returns is paved with successful sales. That isn’t a bad thing. Sales conversion is what every merchant aims for. The real problem is that mountains are obstacles across the returns path: it’s one thing to scale returns in the warehouse, it’s quite another to aggregate and control them when they flood the transportation routes, access points, stores, outlets, etc. When your eco-system becomes obstacle-ridden and hard to surmount, it almost feels like there is no point to get up and see what’s on the other side. Let’s let the returned goods swallow us up for good.

And anyway, why does the bear need to climb the mountain to see the other side? Why is this returns management not transparent enough that the bear knows what’s there, what’s coming and how to deal with it?


Can’t we just go back to sleep?

Interestingly enough, according to Wikipedia, one supposed origin of the song is Germanic. The actions of the bear are compared loosely to Grundsaudaag or Groundhog Day, wherein the bear is said to come out every few weeks from his lair to look out and to assess whether the mountain is clear, meaning that the rain has passed or whether it should continue its hibernation. No wonder the bear doesn’t feel victorious. If the proverbial coast isn’t clear, it just gives up and goes back to sleep. Forget the world outside, let the mountain build. My warm home beckons. Wouldn’t we all just love to do that?


Flipping the Paradigm

So here’s the thing. If returns are seen as mountainous, insurmountable obstacles, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t be the bear, and don’t see a mountain. With the right tools in place making decisions for you, the mountain hike is more like a walk in the park. With the right infrastructure and systems in place logistics becomes logical, and the reverse in reverse logistics no longer means backwards. Instead it means differentiated, optimized and forward thinking.

For an intent listener, the music for “The Bear Climbs over the Mountain” is actually “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” and that is the flipside of the story. No need to hibernate with defeat. No need to be a bear alone in the wilderness. Find the innovation and the right partners – the fellows – like OtailO, who will turn mountains into molehills, and then you can be jolly.