There’s this crazy race happening out there. The race is taking place simultaneously by land, sea and air. It involves:

thousands of facilities

tens of thousands of hands

hundreds of thousands of hours and tons of fuels,

millions of packaging-related items

hundreds of billions of dollars

(These numbers are probably on the low end.)

The purpose of this race is to take the online product that you and I purchased and decided not to keep, and to return it to the online realm. I would say to return it ‘back to the online store’, but that is only one possible finish line. That’s right — the shoes that don’t fit,

the gear that it turns out we already had, the entire set of commemorative ceramic plates that was a total impulse buy — all need to enter this crazy race and begin their backwards voyage.

This is no regular race. Just imagine you are an amazing pair of running shoes that just didn’t fit the buyer, and you are now being returned. The whistle has blown, and the race is off. However:

The finish line isn’t always determined from the start of the race

The race is almost never in a straight line.

The race may take you in endless loops

Sometimes you win if you are fastest

Sometimes you win if you are slowest

You cannot win by yourself. It takes an entire squad to pick, sort, inspect, handle, deliver you to the finish line

In different stages of the race it needs to be determined if you are allowed to continue.

Disqualification from the race, could have terrible consequences, not just the end of the race for you, but also the end of a product life.

The longer you circulate in the race, the more you negatively impact the environment

Even if you get back to the shelf you may never be re-bought

The longer you are in the race, the more you lose your value over time.

The quicker the race, the least likely is it that you will make it back to the online store finish line

So reverse logistics is not a sprint, marathon or obstacle course. It is globular mess of the three, but with very high stakes and dire consequences for the unwitting participants.

The real question is not what it is, but is there any way that we can change it?

Want to hear OtailO’s plan for online product returns? Let’s talk.