The Flattening of the Returns Management Eco-system is not the Final Word
The Future is Still Out There
The recent intent of UPS to acquire Happy Returns demonstrates the flattening of the returns management eco-system into large-sized collaborations. Many of us in the space have been observing the trend with a lot of interest. These strategic alignments typically amalgamate proven return solutions with partners with a strong focus on logistics and supply chain.
The news from UPS puts two of arguably the most well-known solutions together in the same basket. Namely, Happy Returns and Optoro (with whom UPS has a strategic alliance). It also places UPS squarely head-to-head with Fedex over existing Happy Returns and Fedex partnerships.
Arguably, the new situation on the ground is a red flag for other competitors in the space. After all, who can stand up against this Gargantuan force for returns?! I can see many opportunities for breakaway solutions, like OtailO. These solutions are reframing the mold of returns management that the industry has grown to expect. Here are just a few key differentiators that they offer:
When considering returns management there is a certain tendency to focus automatically on the fallout of online returns and the impact on getting these items back to the warehouse. But online returns can and will in many cases pass through an offline network affiliated with the brand, and the brand’s stores themselves will also generate a certain number of returns. What remains consistent is the need to access the data of these returns in a single all-encompassing system. No matter where the return is and no matter the direction in which it is travelling brands want to be able to leverage and understand how best to route and process this return for optimal profitability and efficiency.
Focusing on AI
AI has come to returns management and brands not integrating it will very quickly feel the gap between them and their competitors. Standard returns technology that focuses solely on expediting (or delaying) the return, is no longer enough. AI in returns should manifest – at every step of the returns journey, from the purchase (yes – you read that correctly) to the next life decision making. If your optimization focuses only on the warehouse, or only on the logistics, your returns management is not going to be optimized to its full extent. AI offers a wealth of differentiated perspectives that are intelligently changing the game to focus on real end-to-end benefits and ongoing learning for the purpose of continuous improvement.
Impact and Circularity
It can be argued that ESGs and focusing on impact have taken a bit of a back seat recently. But the fact remains that returns management contributes in a negative way to the creation of indirect emissions and wastage. Solutions that focus on reducing and measuring the reduction of returns and carbon emissions will make a difference. Solutions that provide circular alternatives to a unidirectional returns journey, can make a positive impact. Retail does not need to be perceived as a massive pollutant. Solutions that enable management and tracking of impact indices are key. They will provide a leap forward in terms of supporting science-based goals and SDG KPIs
Bringing the eco-system together
Brands have a global community of returns-related partners, affiliates and associated bodies to handle returns. Brands should leverage this eco-system. In doing so, they can identify which partner is optimal to handle each return optimally. In this manner, the eco-system becomes the community for returns optimization. Returns management that breaks the silos and enables the logical, profitable and optimal next best life in real-time, is the solution that is going to stand out over time.
Real-time decision making
Some returns cannot be resold. Others cannot be recycled. For other returns, their next best life depends on the velocity by which the item can get back to the next shelf. Decisions around economic viability, velocity, margins, etc are the key to real differentiated returns management. If these decisions are only made in the warehouse, it’s probably too late to make a difference.
Real Innovation is Still Out There
Returns Management solutions that bring the aforementioned key differentiators in their toolbox are key. They will continue to challenge the status quo of the industry. Solutions like OtailO, are not waiting for the dust to settle on recent industry plays. The future of returns management is still out there, and we are making it happen.