Monday, November 30, 2015

Return your holiday gifts

Many on-line vendors have established pretty amazing reverse supply chains.  For the uninitiated, the reverse supply chain is what happens when you decide to return something. If you try to return your electronic gizmo to a store, they give you a hard time and charge you a restocking fee. Not nice. 

But many online companies use this as a differentiating service.  How many of you order ten pairs of shoes from Zara, planning to try them all on and return 8 or 9 of them? You know you do it !!  It amazes me that Zara can stay in business this way. But they do.  Amazon does much of the same with a really simple return process. They have pre-printed return shipping labels in the box and the boxes and packing materials are designed for reuse. You just pack it all back up and drop it back into the mail. Many online vendors do this to overcome your fear of making the wrong choice because you didn't see or touch the item yourself before purchasing.

What if we take Zara and Amazon’s expertise in reverse supply chain design and do something good for the world? Consider this option. Instead of (or in addition to) returning the 8 or 9 pairs of shoes you don’t want, throw in the one or two pairs of older shoes you don’t need any more (now that you bought some new ones).  They could be redirected to Goodwill using these efficient reverse supply chains.

There could be two preprinted labels, one to put on the outside so the box goes back to the vendor and another that marks which items are returns to vendor’s warehouse and which ones are for redirecting to Goodwill.

Here is the main advantage I see in this approach.  Some of us don’t donate our old clothes, shoes, electronics, or whatever because we are just too darned lazy.  Some of us might not have a donation center nearby. Some don’t know how. But if you are returning products to the online vendor anyway, all you need to do is plop in the old shoes/clothing/gizmos.  The ease of use could make the difference.

If the reverse supply chain is so efficient, it probably wouldn’t add much to the cost.  And the branding value of supporting the charities, helping the customer support the charity, making it so easy for the customer to support the charity (as proof of the brand's excellent customer experience cred), making the customer feel good about herself by supporting the charity (and alleviating the guilt of buying so many shoes) and so in is easily worth the cost.

Don’t you think?  What am I missing?