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Ask anyone in your warehouse how well they like to handle returns, and you’ll likely hear a sigh or groan in response. That’s because the warehouse returns management process, with its time and space requirements and excess inventory management, is a sizeable hassle
for most distributors. Returns are not a tidy process
to manage the way regular inbound and outbound activities are. Sometimes items are broken or in a box with other unrelated SKUs. Sometimes they’re out of stock or no longer sold, meaning there may be a subsequent return to a vendor. There’s also extra processing required to determine what to do with unusable products, like dispose of it or request a vendor return material authorization (RMA). The list goes on. The only thing predictable about returns is that they’re unpredictable. That said, there are ways to make life easier on the returns front. But first, let’s look at how this return management process typically works.
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Warehouses everywhere deal with customer returns that are sent back for any number of reasons. Some products are damaged or expired, some aren’t what was ordered, and others just didn’t meet expectations on a variety of fronts (no longer needed, size, color, etc.). Several steps have to happen when these goods arrive in your warehouse:
Returns in the pharmacy world require extra layers of oversight as unused drugs on hospital floors (wards) often have to be returned to the main pharmacy if a patient is discharged early or doesn’t require the medication—or if product is expired. There are temperature control considerations as well as strict requirements on how unused doses should be disposed of or introduced back into stock.
The reverse process for warehouse returns management involves vendors and is an outbound function. This has all the hallmarks of a traditional pick/pack/ship workflow but involves extra legwork on the front end to set up the return. Usually, an associate will contact the vendor for an RMA allowing the products to be shipped back to their warehouse. This can happen for seasonal items left over as part of a guaranteed sales plan, for products that arrived damaged, or for excess products nearing expiration that the vendor could resell via a different channel.
Ideally, your returns process should be a streamlined warehouse management operation, so merchandise is sent to your DC and you know exactly what’s in the box without having to sort and visually inspect items before putting them away. Even if this isn’t always possible, below are a few tips on making returns less painful.