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How should protective packaging factor into your reverse logistics strategy?

As shoppers and retailers head back to more routine day-to-day activities following the holiday chaos, one activity that is likely to continue well into February is gift returns. Returns are a routine cost of doing business for online retailers as part of a positive user experience. But the holidays offer more significant challenges regarding returns, particularly when you add more brick-and-mortar stores to the situation.

The National Retail Federation estimates consumers will return about 16.5 percent of their gifts. A UPS study puts that at around 23 percent - a quarter of the gifts given over the holidays. 

Through supply chain challenges brought on by the pandemic, shifts in demand, labor shortages, and transportation delays, we’re seeing more retailers adopt a more aggressive approach to lessening the load in stressed warehouses. Strategies can include charging for returns or, when items cost more to ship than they are worth, offering a refund despite not taking back the unwanted product.


Strengthening packaging during the returns process will help to protect your bottom line


In cases where an item still has value after being returned, it is imperative to maintain the integrity of the product during shipment. The easiest way to do that is through effective packaging. 

Once the decision is made to refurbish an item and sell it back to consumers, or a warrantied product is returned to its owner, protective packaging becomes the tipping point that makes the transaction successful or not. No one will regard receiving a broken shipment as successful. 

There are a few areas where you can strengthen your reverse logistics process by improving the packaging solution in place at that point in the return process. 

The first example is the most obvious, re-commerce. Any returns that have been officially deemed re-sellable often end up back in fulfillment center inventory, on the shelf at a store, or sold to liquidation companies for resale. In any case, once those items are re-purchased, they may be shipped directly to the consumer, and the need for reliable packaging is clear.

Whether it's apparel or electronics, protective mailing solutions and in-the-box packaging are vital in keeping those items protected. These materials are engineered to ensure products are contained and/or cushioned during shipping to minimize damage as much as possible.

Warrantied items are similar in their need for secure packaging and handling. Once a consumer ships a warrantied item back and that item is fixed or replaced, it needs to be returned and received in better condition than when sent. 

Sending it back initiates the outbound fulfillment process, where packaging enters the workflow. Again, mailing, cushioning, and void-fill solutions can protect goods on their return trip to customers.

Packaging technology is not always about shipping in the returns process. Those goods still need to be handled and protected to maintain their value. You may need to break down a consolidated pallet of returns and transfer those items back into warehouse inventory. 

Automated bagging equipment can help get those products into dust covers, seal them and print barcoding on-pack for easy tracking in inventory. Poly bags expertly protect items from dirt, dust, humidity, and other adverse conditions while being stored.

With margins on product returns razor thin, protective packaging is a critical area that can mitigate the risk of costly damages year-round to insulate a challenging holiday returns cycle.


Ready to learn more about how you can utilize protective packaging and mailing solutions to support your returns process?