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The Future-Ready Returns Operation

By Zebra Technologies

E-commerce growth has caused a corresponding surge in returns. To keep pace, you need to capture item data from the front line at every stage—the way a future-ready operation does it.

The volume of returned purchases has risen in proportion to the growth of e-commerce, which has reached $642.6 billion in global sales.

VISIBILITY: At item return and transit

  1. Pre-printed label scan at drop-off location notifies retailer that a returned item is on its way.
  2. The item is loaded onto a truck. A barcode scan documents the act and indicates that the item is in transit.
  3. Mobile technologies allow retailer, third-party logistics provider (3PL) and customer to track item status.

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VISIBILITY: At the dock

  1. At the fulfilment center, receiving records the return and customer information with another scan.
  2. Item transported to central returns processing.
  3. Another barcode scan captures item's label data to update warehouse management system with return stage.

30% vs. 9%
Customers return more than three times as many online purchases as in-store purchases.


VISIBILITY: At item inspection

  1. An enterprise tablet gives access to item specifications for return authentication. The tablet also logs the item's sortation path and documents the condition using its camera.
  2. Printing labels with barcoding, color-coding or radio-frequency identification (RFID) allows for easy item tracking and sortation path recognition.
  3. Item is scanned again to update its status and is routed it to the correct sortation path by color.

VISIBILITY: At Sorting

  1. Front-line data capture enables more visibility, effcient workflows and accurate sortation.
  2. Locating technology solutions track pallets of sorted returned goods to know when items move to the next stage and keep track of dwell and departure time.

Accepting and managing returns is a challenge for 87% of retailers, manufacturers and logistics and delivery service providers. Enterprise mobile tracking technology improves the visibility of returns and prevents them from reducing profit margins as unproductive assets.


VISIBILITY: At reallocation destination

  1. Restocked into inventory
  2. Trucked to manufacturer
  3. Picked up for recycling or disposal

Retailers, manufacturers and logistics and delivery service providers plan to increase their use of enterprise mobile technology between 33% and 55% by 2028. Returns processing is one of several operational areas that can benefit from mobile technology adoption.


A data-powered environment provides better returns visibility and real-time guidance

Barcode, color-code and RFID printing enable digital tracking and sorting of returned goods from customer drop-off to to final disposition.

Update item status in enterprise systems from the front line of operations with scanning, mobile computing and real-time visibility from RFID.

Increased visibility of returns provides businesses with collaborative workflows to track and manage returns profitably.

Build a future-ready returns operation of your own

  • Handheld scanners
  • Software and applications
  • Mobile and desktop printers
  • Radio-frequency identification (RFID)
  • Wearable computers & scanners
  • Enterprise tablets
  • Scanner-equipped mobile computers

Our ecosystem of tracking solutions enables you to manage returns efficiently and profitably. Visit zebra.com/reverselogistics to learn how to build a future-ready returns-processing operation.

Tags: technology, infographic, rfid, future proof, manufacturing, device management, enterprise

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If there's one thing we learned as we've collected this research is that you shouldn't do it alone. With over 20 years of experience, Barcoding has built an ecosystem of products and services to support our customers and help them be more efficient, accurate, and connected. We're here for you. Contact us to discuss your migration or modernization project today!