TMCnet - World's Largest Communications and Technology Community



January 16, 2019

Automating Handling of Returned Goods in Online Retail Businesses

Technological advancements and easy access to the internet have created an opportunity for online retailers to thrive in their businesses. However, one thing that this group of entrepreneurs worry about consistently has to be product returns. These are not only expensive moneywise, but they can also affect retailers emotionally.

This explains why online retailers endeavor to reduce the rate of returns as much as possible. There are numerous ways to achieve this such as, being more precise when it comes to product descriptions especially by use of images and text, added personalization in the retail facility, fast delivery, clear shipping costs, and attractive packaging.

However, these suggestions are not a guarantee that companies will not experience product returns in the near future. Experts suggest that online retailers should adopt exceptional strategies of ensuring the costs and workload affiliated with returns management is reduced.

Some big online retailers experience a high volume of returns even though they have adopted multiple prevention measures. Automating online retailing can go a long way in minimizing return management costs. However, it could be some time before online retailers fully automate their processes.

What Warehouses Need to Automate their Returns Process

Automating various warehouse procedures such as order picking and shipping helps reduce processing time and staff costs. However, advanced automation can have:

  • Huge investment costs
  • Minimal flexibility
  • Prolonged realization timelines
  • Challenges integrating it with already existing systems or processes

Automated systems need limited standardization. This will help manage a wide variety of products with minimal expensive transformations. Unlike in traditional return and storage strategies which involve lots of manual labor, automated applications could require a high initial investment cost depending on its desired application and the size of the company.

In order to maximize their operations, entrepreneurs have a list of demands that automated systems should be able to live by. They include:

  • Reduction of staff expenses
  • Ability to identify, pick, and return products to the storage facility
  • Enhanced picking accuracy and performance
  • Scalability of processes
  • Flexibility to minimize the space required to accommodate the machines or systems

An automated returns process requires various components which include:

  • Appropriate software for enhanced management of returns
  • Scanable information
  • Proper labeling of products complete with a machine-readable label
  • Control units connected to the Enterprise resource planning system for easy reversal of returns’ transaction
  • Control units complete with image and scanning recognition systems for easy identification of products

Incoming Products

Automated systems found within the incoming products section help transfer returned products for more processing. Some warehouses utilize industrial robots to unload and load bins and pallets.

Parcel Opening

When opening returned products, individuals need to exercise caution to avoid damaging them. This can be challenging in terms of cost and time. Many online retailers and manufacturers use sealed standardized boxes complete with adhesive tape to ship goods. Once the warehouse receives the boxes, they are transported under a multiple blade head to ensure accurate cutting of the tape. 

Automated Assessment of Products

Products that are fit to be sealed with no reservation are sealed and returned for storage. This stage presents many challenges to automated processes. This is because every diverse part must be taken out of the parcels and assessed.

Apart from the highly intricate gripping procedure, assessing the products for the slightest defects can be challenging. However, technology has made such tedious processes easier with modern systems and machines. Industrial robots, for instance, can be used to execute tasks with added precision. The more advanced collaborative robots are specially designed to work with humans in the same work environment.


There has been considerable progress in automation over the last years. The popularity of collaborative robots is set to transform the industry in terms of efficiency, increased productivity, and profitability. However, industrial robots are yet to master some intricate applications, especially in the returns department. Research is still underway to make the industry more effective and minimize the volume of returns. This way online retailers will have a better opportunity to thrive in their businesses, make profits and satisfy the needs of their customers conveniently.

» More TMCnet Feature Articles



» More TMCnet Feature Articles

Technology Marketing Corporation

35 Nutmeg Drive Suite 340, Trumbull, Connecticut 06611 USA
Ph: 800-243-6002, 203-852-6800
Fx: 203-866-3326

General comments:
Comments about this site:


© 2019 Technology Marketing Corporation. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy