Although the holiday season is in the rear-view mirror, retailers are still feeling the impacts of yet another busy shopping rush. Santa Claus likely did not get every wish list item correct, and the result is a spike in returns over the first 60 days of the new year. It is not easy to predict which inventory will re-enter the supply chain, and retailers are constantly trying to better anticipate and handle these returns.
In a consumer-focused, commerce-dependent retail world, brands not only have to constantly address the needs of the consumer, but also must prepare for the increasing possibility of inventory returns. Couple this with the fact that many retailers, such as Costco, Target, REI and IKEA, among others, have incredibly customer-friendly return policies, and it is a recipe for a lot of returns. So, can greater connectivity assist in this new world of returns? In the near term maybe, but in the long term — absolutely. Here is how.
We are only just scratching the surface of connected products. For the most part, retailers and brands are looking to attach RFID or IoT to their products to prevent shrinkage or for greater visibility throughout the supply chain. Connectivity is important for basic visibility, but retailers and brands are not yet prepared to push this connectivity beyond these boundaries. Most importantly, consumers need to become comfortable with allowing this connectivity to become a part of the product lifecycle.
Furthermore, consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable with connectivity throughout all aspects of their lives. From connected vehicles to connected personal devices, consumers are becoming more accepting of our information being consumed by a growing number of devices. In fact, this consumption of data is even accelerating in the home, as people use connected devices in their houses such as smart speakers and connected appliances. These trends signal a growing acceptance of sharing more data across an increasing number of touch points. But, how does this impact the world of returns?
Those working in the supply chain need to start thinking about using this greater number of touch points as an opportunity to better understand how their products are being used. For example, consumer product companies spend vast sums of money to acquire point-of-sale data about which of their products are being purchased. What if they could access data from connected appliances in homes to tell them how their products are being used? This amount of information could shed light on not only how the products are truly being used, but also understanding the cause behind returns. For example, are the products not being used as they were designed for? Or, are consumers’ expectations not in line with the intent of the product? Similar to how the automotive industry has used greater connectivity of their products to enable predictive maintenance, consumer supply chains can do so with their own usage data to better anticipate when items might come back for return or exchanges.
Greater connectivity is coming to a host of areas in the consumer ecosystem. This connectivity holds the potential to allow companies in supply chains to better manage the lifecycle of their products from purchase to usage and finally to return or end of cycle. The notion of predictive maintenance is no longer monopolized by large industrial machines, such as airplane engines or wind turbines. As a greater number of consumer-focused goods are becoming smarter, retailers need to take advantage of the data that is being made available to them — and ultimately better adapt their supply chain to an increasing amount of returns.
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