A few months ago I wrote a piece of research that broached the after market supply chain. Click here for link. This topic continues to grow in importance, especially for retailers. Why? Primarily due to the continued growth of the consumer’s voice within the retail supply chain. The saying “the customer is always right” has taken on a whole new degree of importance. Whereas this statement was limited to a finite number of interactions between consumer and retailer, today this saying carries much more gravitas. Consumer’s have a greater awareness to a larger portion of the retailer supply chain, and with that awareness comes greater expectations. One area where retailers are starting to feel this impact is in the after sales supply chain. Consumers want choice not only prior to the moment of truth, at the point of making a purchase, but also expect it post sales. The notion of “all sales are final” is rapidly becoming a dated concept. So what are retailers to do?
- Make sure you have a strategy…okay this might seem too simple, but there are number of retailers ranging from Nordstrom to Target that offer free returns. In 2015, close to 50% of retailers offered these services, placing a massive strain on their cash flow statements. So have a plan. Providing free returns, just because the likes of Amazon and Zappos are doing it, does not necessarily make business sense for your business. Consider creating a tiered returns policies. Big spenders or loyal customers can qualify for free returns, other customers fall into different levels. Perform some ABC cost analysis on the entire supply chain – figure out the true costs. Because nothing is truly “free.” Then create a logical strategy strategy of how to deal with the reverse supply chain.
- Can you turn the after sales into a strategic advantage? The after sales supply chain should be seen as an extension of your relationship with your customer. Returns are not a negative – the customer is not saying they don’t like your product – rather it is part of the customer journey. Can you learn from why the customer returned the item? Is there something that you could alter to the process? How far back in the supply chain can you change procedures to ensure returns are lowered? And you can make returns another revenue opportunity? There are some retailers that seek to incentive customers to return in store, knowing that over 50% of these will convert on another purchase. Could retailers drive those numbers higher? Viewing after sales supply chain as part of your customers’ journey is crucial to unlocking some strategic opportunities with post sales supply chains.
- Another data source – mine it! Why are consumers returning the product? Wrong size, color, style…the number of reasons is endless. Retailers need to embrace this level of data that could be ingested back into the supply chain. Can the product be redesigned? Is the marketing of the product not appropriate? Was there a better way to promote the item? Was the style just wrong? Retailers must embrace the data and information that the after sales supply chain can render. The ability to take the information, processes it quickly and render better decisions based on this information could prove to be a data lake worth swimming in.
- Don’t hesitate to lean on your solution providers to offer solutions. One theme I saw at NRF was some innovative thinking about how to handle the after sales supply chain. From software players such as JDA and IBM to service providers such as Wipro. Retailers shouldn’t hesitate to look their existing service and solution providers to assist with this journey. Don’t be shy about expecting your software and service providers to become a true partner when it comes to handling the post sales supply chain.
The after sales supply chain is evolving beyond being a cost center and a “nuisance” to retailers. It is part of the consumer journey and consumer expectations. Retailers, service providers and software vendors all have an opportunity in the after sales supply chain. Consumers are already there expecting better post sales service, it is up to the savvy retailers to meet those expectations.