Reverse Logistics One Year Later: Lessons Learned from a Pandemic

A man in a warehouse wearing PPE that includes a hard hat, mask, and gloves.

As we pass the one-year mark of when the first significant disruptions occurred in the U.S. as a result of COVID-19 it’s a good time to look back and what we have learned about reverse logistics and supply chains during 2020. While the pandemic is not yet over, it’s important for companies to examine what went right and—perhaps even more importantly what went wrong—in the reverse logistics process to build a better and more resilient supply chain moving forward.

Changing on a Dime

One of the lasting lessons that many companies learned from 2020 was that things can change very rapidly. The supply chain industry has been adopting new technology over the course of several years, but for many (including those who had thus far resisted significant technological upgrades), COVID-19 forced the change in a very rapid way. For those that were already utilizing technology in effective ways, it still required a significant shift from the “business as usual” in most reverse logistics processes.

While we all hope that we never have to endure another disruption to our public health and economy on the same level as COVID, the changes that happened in 2020 revealed that companies need to be ready for literally anything. Even if another pandemic never occurs (and public health experts aren’t optimistic on that front), there will be other challenges that require innovation and flexibility in the future.

Companies that are prepared to meet these challenges with responsive and scalable technology will be positioned to surge ahead of competitors in the future.

Visibility into Your Reverse Logistics Process

Another significant challenge that many companies encountered was a lack of visibility into their supply chain on both ends. Manufacturers and retailers often know a lot about their first-tier suppliers, but some know very little about suppliers farther up the chain. The same is true for reverse logistics, where companies may be familiar with a single part of the process that most directly affects the return of materials, but have limited insights into the steps prior to that within their own system, or the steps after the return that are required for disposition like return to vendor (RTV).

The ability to see your entire supply chain from start to finish is essential in a fast-paced manufacturing and retail sales world. Without that level of visibility, you probably struggled to pivot when one supplier shut down manufacturing in a foreign country as the SARS-CoV-2 virus hit countries in waves at varying times throughout the past year.

Similarly, being able to track and identify the movement of products back to your facility once they were sold to consumers or when they didn’t meet the needs of your B2B customers is essential. A lack of visibility can quickly overwhelm your team as returns funnel in without the right workflows and tracking to keep it all straight.

The end result is frustrated customers and significant damage to your reputation, which can last much longer than any pandemic.

Automation, Data, and the Future of Reverse Logistics

The reverse logistics industry has been using buzzwords like “automation” and “predictive analytics” for a while now. Companies that have been slow to adopt these technologies probably struggled significantly to balance the demands of customers on one side of your logistics chain with the changes and demands of suppliers on the other side.

COVID-19 created perhaps the fastest and most dramatic shift in consumer behavior that has ever occurred in history, and companies caught flat-footed without the right information were continually working from behind the curve to try and keep up.

Those that succeeded were the ones that were prepared with good data and information about their customers’ behaviors, as well as technology that could help predict future behavior. Reporting is another critical part of your ability to respond when things inevitably change again. Real-time reports that are easy to run, easy to read, and easy to disseminate throughout your organization to key stakeholders will help you make important decisions on the fly that can have significant impacts on your ability to stay ahead of the next curveball that comes.

The Importance of (the Right) Technology

Perhaps the most important lesson that companies learned in the last year is just how critical your software and technology are to your success. No matter where you are in the supply chain—manufacturing, shipping, retailers—your ability to meet customers’ needs depends on having the right tools at your disposal. Reverse logistics is not a simple process. The complexity requires that you have a technology platform ready to handle whatever comes next.

ReverseLogix is the premier SaaS platform for handling reverse logistics. Our advanced software allows you to build a customized system that meets your needs today with the ability to scale up, scale down, or add on as needed when you grow and change in the future. Learn more about all the advantages of our reverse logistics software today by scheduling a demo.