COVID-19

Retailers have to figure out how to handle all our online returns

Andy Uhler Dec 14, 2020
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Packages are processed at a U.S. Postal Service distribution center in Oakland, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
COVID-19

Retailers have to figure out how to handle all our online returns

Andy Uhler Dec 14, 2020
Heard on:
Packages are processed at a U.S. Postal Service distribution center in Oakland, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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COPY

Reverse logistics: That’s a fancy name for what a lot of us are going to be asking retailers to do this year. Namely, handle our online returns. And a new report from the real estate consultancy CBRE says we’re running out of space to put all those items we’ve sent back.

More online shopping, which the pandemic has accelerated, means more returns because, well, if you can’t try on a dress or test out a gadget before you buy it, it might be going back. Chad Autry at the University of Tennessee said that creates logistical challenges for the companies selling that stuff.

“Can something be gotten back into the supply chain as fast as if it were at a brick and mortar retail location?” he said.

Autry said a lot of times, it can’t. Some things have to be tested to make sure they still work.

And even the items that can go back into circulation for sale need to be stored somewhere. So, where is that space going to come from? John Morris is head of industrial, logistics and retail at CBRE, the group that wrote the study. 

“So you might see some retailers decide store seven in Chicagoland is going to be the store that all of the returns go back to and then we’ll process them from there,” he said.

Morris said those spaces would likely, for now, be run by third party logistics companies that already have the staff and systems to take care of that gift you got from your grandma that you’re just not into.

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