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In the worlds of e-commerce, retail, and product fulfillment, returns are an unfortunate fact of life.

Ideally, nobody would ever have to return a product and everyone’s purchases would be perfect right away, but that’s not the world we live in and sometimes things need to be sent back to the warehouse.

With the inevitability of product returns, you need to ask yourself—how does my warehouse handle returns? Is there a consistent method to restock and reshelve these products, or do you just wait until something comes in?

If you want to make sure your product returns are being handled effectively, or if you just want some ideas to streamline your process, here’s four questions to ask yourself.


How do you receive returns? Obviously the answer is “through the mail”, but more so what you do when you get them. While returns are rarely the highest priority on anyone’s list, many warehouses set a deadline of 48 hours to handle and process returns as they come in. When the time comes to actually process them, you may want to stick with a FIFO (first in first out) process to keep everything chronologically ordered and handled on time. Otherwise things run the risk of being lost in the mix.


Where are these returns being stored while processing? In most cases, returns won’t be able to make it back to their home shelves right away, so they’ll need to be stored somewhere safe during processing. Get some low-profile shelving that can handle a heavy weight like wire shelving or steel shelving to hang onto unprocessed returns so they don’t get in the way—and so nobody accidentally mixes them in with live product. The sorting process will be up to whatever works best for your warehouse, but a lot of warehouses prefer to sort by date received so they can better manage a FIFO process.


How are the returns being processed? Actually getting the returns back into active inventory can be an adventure all on its own, but having a good processing strategy in place is key. After deciding on a processing speed (FIFO, for example), you then need to work with your employees to figure out how to best get them back to their destination. Many warehouses use warehouse conveyors for this process, the better to help them get to their destination faster while minimizing touches along the way. Make sure each product gets properly re-barcoded to ensure it gets back with other similar products correctly.


Are the value of these returns being analyzed properly? Finally, even after everything has been processed back into the system and put away, you’ll want to make sure you’re tracking the value of every item that gets returned. High-value returns can start to impact your bottom line and your sales figures, and may need to be reported at the end of the year. Keep track of everything that gets sent back, and why, before you move on from the returns process.

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